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Opera in four acts
Libretto by Arturo Colautti after Eugene Scribe & Ernest Legouve's play Adrienne Lecouvreur
First performed November 6 1902, Teatro Lirico, Milan
(premiere of this production: March 4 2012)
Sung in Italian with English & German surtitles
ca. 3 hours, including 1 interval
an introductory talk, in German, begins in the upstairs foyer 30 minutes before every performance
Francesco Cilea unleashed a fascinating, puzzling game between backstage in a theatre and scheming aristocrats in Adriana Lecouvreur. The opera is based on a real figure – a famous 18th century actress, and friend of Voltaire's, at the Comédie-Française in Paris. It is a moving love story between Adriana Lecouvreur and Moritz of Sachsen and Adriana's dangerous rival, the Princess of Boullion. Adriana dies from the scent of a bunch of poisoned violets: or an broken heart? Vincent Boussard was able to move between the worlds of theatre and real emotions with minutely detailed direction of the characters and the help of Kaspar Glarner's flexible set and Joachim Klein's magical lighting. Christian Lacroix's opulent costumes combine baroque touches with contemporary chic.
The Comédie Française, before a performance in which two actresses, Adriana Lecouvreur and her rival Duclos, are taking part. Two other actresses, Jouvenot and Dangeville, and their colleagues Quinault and Poisson ask Michonnet to bring their props. The Prince de Bouillon & Abbé de Chazeuil arrive. The Prince asks Michonnet where Duclos, his protégé, is. When he hears that she is writing a letter he is consumed with jealousy and demands that the Abbé get hold of the missive for him. The performance begins. Adriana remains alone with Michonnet, who decides to confess his love for her. Just as he is about to make a clumsy proposal Adriana confides in him that she is expecting a cavalier in the Count of Saxony’s regiment that evening: he wants to see her on stage. Michonnet warns her not to be blinded by happiness. Maurizio arrives – Adriana has no idea that he is the Count of Saxony. She gives him a bunch of violets as a love token. They will meet after the performance. The Prince and Abbé have got hold of Duclos’ letter, invitating the Count to come to her villa that night. The Prince decides to thwart their rendezvous by throwing a party there for the cast. His plan is overheard by members of the troupe. Maurizio has received the letter, which is actually from the Princess of Bouillon, from whom Maurizio hopes to gain support for his political plans. He writes Adriana a note saying that he will not be able to meet her later. When Adriana reads it on stage she is so upset that Michonnet and everyone else marvel anew at her astonishing acting. The Prince invites everybody to his party to celebrate the triumphant evening. Adriana agrees to go because the Count of Saxony will be there and she might be able to put in a good word about Maurizio’s promotion. The Prince gives her a key to Duclos’ villa. Act II The Princess of Bouillon is waiting impatiently for Maurizio in Duclos’ villa. He arrives. The bunch of violets in his lapel make her jealous. Anxious to protect him from political enemies she tries, in vain, to bind him closer to her once again. Maurizio maintains his reserve. She asks for the name of her rival just as the Prince's arrival is announced. She hides, but the Prince and Abbé caught a glimpse of her and assume it was Duclos. Maurizio realises this when the Prince declares that the only a reason he was looking for Duclos was to break up with her. Adriana realises that her lover is the Count of Saxony. Michonnet rushes in, he has to talk to Duclos about a new role. When the Abbé tells him that she is in the building, Adriana guesses that she must be reason why Maurizio cancelled their date. The Count manages to convince Adriana that his political interests forced him to arrange a secret meeting here with a lady of high rank. Adriana believes him and promises to help the unknown woman escape. The identity of the woman saving her, whose voice seems familiar, is unknown to the Princess, but her suspicions that she is Maurizio’s lover grow. Adriana realises that the woman loves Maurizio. They argue. Adriana is not prepared to let the stranger go without finding out who she is. The Princess manages to slip away, but Adriana has her bracelet. Act III The Prince of Bouillon's party. Before the guests arrive the Princess is still wondering who her enemy, the woman who saved her face, could be. She orders the Abbé to find out the name of the Count’s lover. Adriana arrives with Michonnet. The sound of her voice grabs the Princess’ attention. In order to confirm her suspicions she mentions that Maurizio has been wounded. Adriana’s reaction proves her assumption correct. Maurizio arrives, a glowing victor. Adriana watches jealously as he and the Princess talk in private. Before she can ask him to explain, he is called upon to tell the guests about his recent exploits. The Princess begins an apparently innocent discussion about „the Count’s beauty“: a young comedienne was spoken of at court. Adriana’s riposte: theatre gossip points to it being an aristocrat. As proof she produces the bracelet, which the Prince recognises as belonging to his wife. The Princess demands that Adriana recite something for them, smugly suggesting „Ariadne Abandoned“. Adriana, deeply hurt, is asked by the Prince to do something from Racine’s Phädra. She performs a monologue which makes the Princess’ behaviour look foolish. She leaves the party. Act IV Adriana has gone to the theatre and fallen into a restless sleep. Michonnet finds her. He writes a letter for the maid to deliver. Adriana awakes and confides to Michonnet that she has decided never to perform again. Fame and the stage mean nothing to her anymore, she is filled only with thoughts of revenge. Michonnet eventually manages to calm her down. Jouvenot, Dangeville, Quinault and Poisson surprise Adriana, congratulating her on her name’s day. A casket has been delivered, in the Count of Saxony’s name, containing the wilted bunch of violets. Adriana is devastated by Maurizio’s cruelty. She kisses the flowers as if wanting to inhale their scent with her last breath. In a moment of deepest despair Adriana hears Maurizio’s voice. Michonnet’s letter summoned him. Maurizio asks Adriana to forgive him for his long absence, assures her that it is only she he loves and implores her to be his wife. Overcome by happiness, Adriana accepts. She suddenly no longer recognises Maurizio, and collapses. Michonnet realises that the violets were sent by her rival and had been soaked in poison. Adriana dies.