Adriana Lecouvreur, Royal Opera House, London

Recession? What recession? Anyone attending this show may wonder which planet Covent Garden is living on. When everyone else is cutting back, London’s premier opera house lavishes more resources on a rarely staged potboiler than it did on many a masterpiece when times were good.

Of course, these things are planned years in advance. A more plausible explanation is that the production is shared with four other companies, spreading the cost while giving London first bite. Just as important, someone has realised that if you want to make a go of Adriana Lecouvreur, you can’t afford half-measures. This cast, led by Angela Gheorghiu and Jonas Kaufmann, guarantees a sell-out.

Cilea’s tale of passion, jealousy, revenge and death is so formulaic that you wonder how anyone could ever believe in it. David McVicar’s production, designed by Charles Edwards (decor), Brigitte Reiffenstuel (costumes) and Adam Silverman (lighting), somehow makes it stand up. He sets it exactly in period (ancien régime Paris) with the sort of detail that makes the heroine’s actressy world – backstage bustle and front-of-stage histrionics, emotional highs and melodramatic lows – visible, believable and appealing.

Although Caruso sang at the 1902 premiere, it’s not usually the tenor who dominates. Kaufmann does. Everything is right – the heroic timbre, the musicianly refinements, the subtleties of his acting, not to mention gorgeous looks. He and Gheorghiu radiate a sexiness that would have been unthinkable when Joan Sutherland, Renata Tebaldi and Mirella Freni used this opera as a vehicle for their ageing powers.

Unlike them Gheorghiu is still credibly young: she makes a bewitching centrepiece, stressing the pathos in a way that recalls her Violetta. But again, unlike them, she is forced to mask the slender quality of her voice, emphasising intimacy and fragility over diva-like grandeur. Maybe that is why her “domestic” scenes with Alessandro Corbelli’s lovable Michonnet prove more rewarding than the confrontations with Michaela Schuster’s impressive Princesse de Bouillon.

Mark Elder and the orchestra make the score sound far better than its reputation. All in all, worth every penny. ()

www.roh.org.uk

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