Francesco Cilèa's grandly creaky Adriana Lecouvreur – verismo meets art nouveau - is worth reviving when a dramatic soprano with strong acting skills comes along. Magda Olivero continued to perform the role into her 70s (!), and Renata Scotto also did well with it. If only Maria Callas had taken it on! Daniela Dessì is an appealing soprano with a voice not dissimilar to both Olivero's and Scotto's, and it is clear to see why La Scala chose her for this production, first seen in 1989, but revived in January 2000 – which is when this live DVD was recorded. The only thing "wrong" with her performance is that she is too modest – not a grande dame of the Comédie-Française. Adriana, after all, dukes it out with a powerful member of the royalty not once, but twice, in this opera, so she must not be like the wilting violets that cause her death in Act Four! Having registered this complaint, I must admit Dessì looks good, is very feminine, and sings gorgeously throughout. "Poveri fiori," her Act Four aria, is delivered with such intimacy that the sound seems to be issuing not from her throat but from the core of her being.
The ineffable "star quality" absent in Dessì is very much present in Olga Borodina, who plays Adriana's rival, the Princess de Bouillon. Adriana is no match for her hauteur and ruthlessness, and, with her solid vocalism, she is the center of attention every time that she is on stage. Beneath his white wig, Borodina's countryman Sergei Larin doesn't do much with Maurizio. His efficient singing is generically passionate but cool, and he wears a pained expression throughout. Michonnet, the Stage Manager and Adriana's "secret admirer," is movingly sung and acted by Carlo Guelfi. The rest of the cast is fine, and La Scala's ballet dancers nicely strut their stuff in Act Three's "Judgment of Paris." Roberto Rizzi Brignoli is a pupil of verismo's late master, Gianandrea Gavazzeni. His conducting, like the performance of the star soprano, is a bit on the modest side. One wants chairs to be overturned and scenery to be chewed in this opera.
Speaking of scenery, Paolo Bregni's mirrored stage-within-a-stage set is an apt metaphor for the opera's onstage/offstage intrigues and deceptions. Director Lamberto Puggelli's production is fairly conservative, apart from quite a bit of horizontal heavy petting for the two leads during their reunion in Act Four.
The sound (PCM stereo, DD 5.1, DTS 5.1) and the picture (Anamorphic Widescreen) are fine, although the former is not as wide-ranging as I would have expected it to be. Subtitles in five languages are available. There are no bonus features.
Although this is not an ideal presentation Cilèa's tale of jealousy and revenge, a better performance is likely to remain elusive for some time, and we are fortunate to have Adriana Lecouvreur on DVD at all.
Copyright © 2004, Raymond Tuttle