I’ve had this hanging over me for ages. “Must write up Adriana Lecouvreur,” I’ve been muttering to myself, long after everyone stopped caring about it. Got to get it out of the way now… it’s Tannhäuser on Sunday.
I was late to the party: 4 December. It was a Gheorghiu night. She turned up; she looked great in the frocks; she sang exquisitely but sometimes nearly inaudibly; she managed some real pathos in the final act. No-one can collapse against the furniture in simple white shift dress quite like Ms G and, to everyone’s credit – and probably mostly hers – that last scene, preposterous on paper, managed somehow to work. Poisoned violets, indeed. Tsk!
Kaufmann was a star. The voice was everything that people rave about. He was an ardent lover: he and Gheorghiu attacked each other with snoggy gusto, which was all a bit much.
Borodina had an auditorium-filling, ripe mezzo sound that was wonderful in the pantomime villain of the Princesse de Bouillon: she is, we might say if we are of a punning mind, a Stock Character. The confrontation at the theatre was a marvellous piece of Bette Davis-Joan Crawford campery. Quietly stealing the show was Alessandro Corbelli as the Stage Manager, Michonnet: he is a bloody marvel and, outside the usual buffo framework, he shone as an actor and singer of very great pathos. Everyone else fitted into their roles brilliantly. The orchestra gave its all and did the score proud. The production was elegant, with some nice touches; costumes were grand (and notably ‘uplifting’ for the women).
It sent you out into the night in smiley mood, traces of the oft-repeated ‘big tune’ wafting around your mind.
And yet, for all its rampant, fruity drama and big, rich sounds, it came rather short of the full deal. If art is supposed to tell you something about the human condition, or shine a light into places more often left in shadow, then I’m afraid this was entertainment. And there is lighter entertainment out there to be had. Someone – I can’t recall who, so sorry to them! – described this as the ‘best opera Puccini never wrote’. Whatever, I think it succeeded by simply having the whole damn works thrown at it by the Royal Opera House. With less lavish treatment – of voices, orchestra, scenery, costumes, indeed of any element – it could be a real slog, especially that last act: the whole thing paints its dramatic picture very coarsely indeed. My other half had a ticket for later in the run, with Ángela Blancas Gulín: this turned out to be a rather less successful experience; his report-back contained a bit of repetition of the words ‘wobbly’ and ‘strident’…
Oh well, it’s a break from the endless revivals of that Bohème or that Turandot.