For its final production of the summer, Opera Holland Park is offering Cilea’s slice of romantic hokum, Adriana Lecouvreur. This opera from 1902 belongs to the so-called verismo era, which has given the company some of its most notable successes in the past, especially when it has dug out rarities (though Adriana Lecouvreur has already enjoyed a centenary production there in 2002).
It is ironic that such a ludicrously camp opera should have been based on real life characters. There is no point in expecting any kind of historical veracity from it. The best advice is to hope for some flouncy costumes, a healthy dash of melodrama, and check in one’s sense of logic at the cloakroom.
For OHP, director Martin Lloyd-Evans has delivered a lively production, which tries to give the opera a genuine, beating heart. He establishes a neat contrast by updating the story to a modern period of political intrigue (is it meant to be Paris during the Nazi occupation?) but keeps the company of classical actors in Baroque costume. The backstage hustle-and-bustle of the theatre scenes is amusingly done, but more important, he gives the main characters space to show their feelings. Never mind that the scenery wobbles and the stage doors get stuck (when the Princess declares, “Here is a secret door I can open to escape”, one wanted to call out, “You’ll be lucky!”). The creaky plot of Adriana Lecouvreur deserves nothing less.
As the celebrated actress of the title-role, Cheryl Barker makes a wicked entrance, tapping her cigarette out into the ashtray proffered by a dutiful servant. She sings with strength and lyricism, strikes the right balance between being haughty in public and vulnerable in private, and is touching as the tragic denouement unfolds. Peter Auty makes hard work of her lover Maurizio, but gives the character soul and feeling. Tiziana Carraro brings authentic Italian fury to Adriana’s rival, the Princesse de Bouillon, and Richard Burkhard sings very well as Michonnet, the stage manager. Even the ballet, courtesy of dancers from English National Ballet, goes well. Manlio Benzi, the conductor, encourages too much volume from the orchestra, but this is hokum played with passion and affection.