"Bravo to conductor Carlo Goldstein for conducting this excellent orchestra with elegance, free from any exaggeration, and with an attention to detail that did justice to this sophisticated score."  

Musica - Nicola Cattò


A Homage to the Theatre

At the beginning of the 20th century, Opera was ready for something new: no more queens and bishops, no more nobles engaged in grand enterprises or relentlessly seeking revenge, no more historical figures delivering moral messages. The bourgeois audience wanted to empathize more directly, to be entertained by something other than metaphors, and passionately desired unique new stories. And so, the Far East arrived on the scene, as well as fantasy literature, the southern folklore of Verismo, the American western frontier, and even talking animals or toys that came to life. Opera was experiencing one of its greatest creative moments, just as many were discussing its inevitable decline. Its form became increasingly freer and more unpredictable, its orchestration more and more original, while vocal parts explored new techniques from Sprechgesang to aleatory writing. All of this was undertaken with the aim of giving voice to characters with a new psychological complexity and modern feel.

Cilea's Adriana Lecouvreur – 1902 – participated in its own way.

At first glance, this opera seems quite traditional: a magnificent melodism in which recurring motifs relating to different characters shape the various plot points; a canto di forza tempered by some elegant bel canto moments; a Primadonna soprano courted by a Count tenor, with a colorful supporting cast whose lighter numbers are interwoven to provide a skillful counterpoint to the main drama. Yet Adriana is a truly innovative operatic work and, although it also represents Cilea’s deep love for tradition, what is most striking about the piece is its creative shift in perspective. Cilea did not look far afield or seek out an exotic backdrop, and instead remained where he had always been, in a place he knew and loved better than anywhere else: the THEATRE! But he turned and looked behind himself, at what normally remains hidden: Adriana Lecouvreur is an opera set backstage!

With a gesture reminiscent of the Commedia dell’Arte, Cilea depicts the darkness of the wings, the dressing rooms and their scent, the excitement before the opening curtain, the sarcastic quips of the acting company, and the hierarchy and dynamics of the “underground” that exists behind the scenes.

The entire opera is suspended between fiction and reality, acting and real life.

The heroine enters, reciting the lines of a monologue, and then welcomes her beloved between calls in her dressing room. We observe all of this through the eyes and concerns of Michonnet, the stage manager, who anxiously eavesdrops behind them. Adriana continually puts on and takes off her mask, ascending and descending from the theatre's stage in order to enter and exit the "stage" of her own life. This continues until the climax in which these worlds collide: the third act. Here, Adriana attends a reception, where she confronts her arch-rival with allusions that pique the curiosity of the onlookers – in effect, another audience – and then, by reciting a monologue from Racine’s Phèdre, she openly challenges her rival. Adriana identifies herself with her mask to such an extent that she transcends the limits of acting; fiction has become more authentic than real life. This “short circuit” represents the point of no return and paves the way for the inevitable drama of the fourth act.

Adriana is unquestionably the vocal protagonist of the opera, but, from a dramaturgical perspective, the linchpin is in fact the baritone Michonnet! Cilea dedicates the most creative pages to him: he is the king of the scene before the curtain opens, and therefore the true demiurge of the whole affair. Not coincidentally, Michonnet always exists, in a musical sense, within the themes of other characters; he lives by reflected light, singing to the melodies of others. Only one theme – in ¾ – seems to be linked specifically to Michonnet. This theme depicts indecision, repressed impulses, and expectation, and is often used as a transition between other themes. Michonnet is the man whom the public can never know, whose impossible love can never be fulfilled. The stage manager knows everyone’s secrets, but nobody knows any of his. Michonnet does not have a mask of his own, does not perform heroics like Maurizio, and does not even act like Adriana. He lives in the real world, preparing and handing out masks for others.

I believe that Michonnet is Cilea’s alter ego: his emotions are the most genuine – “E rido e piango e sogno!” – and his words prior to the Intermezzo of the second act pay homage to the ancient, unappreciated nobility of those who live in the theatre and for the theatre: “Noi siam povera gente, lasciam scherzare i grandi… non ci si lucra niente!”