Notes and Editorial Reviews
It may be getting dangerously close to saying precisely what I don't want to say about this set, but one of its pleasures is watching three singers as experienced as Sutherland, Bergonzi and Sénéchal demonstrating how far a secure technique and acute vocal self-knowledge can help in the management of a voice that now needs a bit more coaxing and indulgence than once it did. Despite her skill in brilliant coloratura Sutherland's greatest gift, it seems to me, is as an elegiac singer, and I don't imagine that the flashing-eyed hauteur of Adriana Lecouvreur would ever have come very naturally to her. But there are more vulnerable pages of the role where her fine sense of long line and the dignity and gravity that are conveyed by
the now shadowed colour of her mezza-voce count for a good deal. There is not much fine shading or detailed characterization to her portrayal (both of them qualities of which Renata Scotto, in James Levine's CBS recording, is in such masterly control), and a marked vibrato robs her tone of purity, marring her entrance aria "lo son l'umile ancella", but Act 4's tenderly regretful "Poveri fiori" is much more suited to the beautifully muted instrument she employs for it, and it is touchingly done.
Bergonzi is a wonder: 66 years old and still turning phrases with that neat and stylish precision of his (still with his endearing slight lisp), well able to match Sutherland in ample phrasing and with a breath control that tenors half his age might envy. No, he doesn't make much of Maurizio's character, such as it is (in my experience only Levine's ardent Phcido Domingo has done so) and yes, the top notes do cost him an audible effort, but it's a pleasure to hear him again. So it is to hear Sénéchal, as incisive and insinuating with his words as ever. Ciurca as the baleful Princess is a bit of an eyeball-roller, and her tendency to force should be curbed, but how good at last to hear a real Italian mezzo in this role, and without a hint of that break between registers that makes most performances of the Princess's Act 2 aria sound as though a yodelling song had been imported into the opera. Nucci is the disappointment: decent enough fullvoiced singing (though with a tinge of nasality at times), a bit of sollo race parlando to pass as acting, but no real trace of Michonnet's rather touching character, an old cynic moved by love for the first time but far too late.
One doesn't usually mention the Princess's cypher of a husband in reviews of this opera, but one or two brief passages cut from the published score have been restored and in an interesting but ludicrously implausible aside it is he who gives his wife the idea of poisoning her rival. Waiting for her guests before the party she asks a servant for some face-powder. "Not that powder! Why, a mere sniff could kill you ...," says her husband who we now learn is an enthusiastic amateur chemist ("Parties oblige me to clear out my laboratory", he observes wearily, is my current candidate for the silliest line in all opera). Rather dully sung, his enigmatic song about the poison, but interesting, as I say, and lovers of this opera will have to hear it.
Comparisons are unavoidable, and they are bound to seem severe. Even in Maurizio Arena's RCA set, hampered by a reduced-voltage Adriana (Raina Kabaivanska) and an over-parted tenor (Alberta Cupido) the opera has more life and dramatic thrust to it, while in Levine's luxuriously cast version (Scotto and Domingo are joined by Sherrill Milnes as a rueful and affecting Michonnet, with Elena Obraztsova's throatily melodramatic Princess the only unconvincing link) all the libretto's apparent absurdities are transcended: the heartstrings, resist who may, are tugged. Whereas the new recording, by comparison considerately but rather stodgily conducted, sounds like a concert performance: a concert, mind you, at which three seasoned troupers clearly enjoyed themselves a good deal, for which their admirers would have queued all night and after which they would have cheered themselves happily, gratefully and nostalgically hoarse. And who could deny the value of recording such an occasion as that?
-- Gramophone [9/1990]
Works on This Recording
Adriana Lecouvreur by Francesco Cilča
Michel Sénéchal (Tenor),
Dame Joan Sutherland (Soprano),
Francesco Ellero d'Artegna (Bass),
Leo Nucci (Baritone),
Frances Ginzer (Soprano),
Carlo Bergonzi (Tenor),
Bryn Terfel (Baritone),
Peter Bronder (Tenor),
Colin Cue (Tenor),
Deborah Roberts (Soprano)
Welsh National Opera Chorus,
Welsh National Opera Orchestra
Written: 1902; Italy
Date of Recording: 12/1988
Venue: Brangwyn Hall, Swansea, London
Length: 0 Minutes 39 Secs.
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