Notes and Editorial Reviews
If Maurizio Arena's lively and sympathetic account of Adriana Lecouvreur for RCA demonstrates that the opera still has stageworthy potential, and not just as a vehicle for an old-fashioned prima donna (for to tell the truth his donna, Raina Kabaivanska, is a rather small-scale Adriana, the voice not always under perfect control), James Levine's sumptuous CBS reading makes an even stronger case for it, and his donna is decidedly prima. It is Levine's Adriana Lecouvreur as much as Renata Scotto's, indeed, and some listeners may find his affectionate moulding of the score, his underlining of its every expressive detail and his leisurely speeds (he adds a full 15 minutes to Arena's timing) rather over-done.
His approach strikes me as an admirable one, rooted in a real love for the score (he has a distinct talent for making you think again about supposedly second-rate Italian operas: he is a first-rate conductor of Zandonai, for example) and in great consideration for his singers. I suspect that Kabaivanska would have made more of the title-role with support from Levine's supple phrasing, so well attuned to the way Cilea's phrases lie for the voice and to a singer's need to breathe, to approach a climactic note at the voice's own pace. Scotto certainly responds to this, and makes a part that might have seemed a size too large for her (there are one or two brief moments of strain) thoroughly her own, with a range that extends from caressed murmur to splendidly melodramatic hauteur.
Domingo is in ardent voice and fills out the rather thinly sketched Maurizio admirably (Arena's elegant tenor, Alberto Cupido, is rather over-parted) and both baritones, Milnes for Levine and Arena's Attilio d'Orazi make a sympathetic figure of the soft-hearted Michonnet. Obraztsova's fans will not mind too much that she makes the haughty Princesse de Bouillon sound like Azucena or Ulrica (one quite expects her to offer balefully to tell Adriana's fortune) but Arena's Alexandrina Milcheva, a very similar Slavonic voice, does much the same. nut this opera stands or falls on whether the soprano can convince you that she is both a grande dame and touchingly vulnerable, and on whether the conductor realizes how much more than an accompanist he needs to be (Cilea was a cunning builder of dramatic tension, and an imaginative orchestrator). On both counts this set succeeds finely, and it is beautifully recorded.
-- Gramophone [3/1990]