Dear Readers:

Welcome to Awful Avalanche, here is my blog concept and what I do [updated 6 January 2019]:

My blogposts are written in English.  I review content mostly from the Russian-language online press, in search of stories which interest me.  From time to time I venture out and review other things, for example, opera or movies!

My target audience:  Russophiles, or anybody else who is interested.

As my blog concept evolved, it contains content divided into the following categories:

  • Animal Rights
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  • Ballet
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I hope you read and enjoy my posts!

Sincerely yours,


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Adriana Conquers the Met – Part VI

Dear Readers:

Continuing my review of the Metropolitan Opera production of Adriana Lecouvreur, starring Anna Netrebko in the title role.  And now, after some teasing and some sidebars, it is time to really take this plot apart from stem to stern.  I am talking in particular about that crucial Act II of the opera, that bit of business in the darkened villa, which sets the main dramatic conflict between Adriana and the Princess.  And I am using this translation into English (by a Mister H. Herman) of the original play, as my source material.

In the initial scene, between the Princess and the Abbé, the former begs the latter for the latest society gossip.  The Abbé dishes that Adrienne and Duclos will be performing together on the same stage that night, in a production of Racine’s Bajazet.  The theater is expected to be crowded.  (The rivalry of the two actresses provides a sort of reality-show for jaded Parisians.)  The Abbé uses this gossip as a segue to his arm-twisted revelation that the Prince is having an affair with Duclos.  (Abbé thinks to turn Princess against hubby, so that she will jump into an affair with himself.)  This is where the Princess assures him she knows all about the affair, and about hubby’s expensive gifts to Duclos:  “I forgave Mademoiselle Duclos, who did nothing without my orders and kept me informed of everything.  Those were the terms upon which she enjoys my protection.”  When the Abbé asks her, what she gets out of this arrangement, she replies with the complete cynicism of a society lady:  See, her hubby doesn’t know that she knows about the affair with Duclos.  From time to time she feigns a jealousy and suspiciousness that she does not actually feel.  To placate her and allay her “suspicions”, hubby is super-attentive to her needs and buys her expensive gifts.

Which, by the way, Dear Readers, I was incorrect in my previous post (and I hang my head in shame), when I assured you that the diamonds gifted to Mademoiselle Duclos were one and the same diamond bracelet that figures so prominently in Act II of the opera.  No, the diamond bracelet involved actually belongs to the Princess, as we shall see….  (This is why it pays to study the source material.)

So, already we have introduced two crucial objects of the plot:  the diamond bracelet and the villa.  And in the very next scene, a third major object is produced:  The poison!  The very same poison which later does in our intrepid heroine, Adrienne.

See, the Prince of Bouillon is an amateur chemist and scientist who corresponds with Voltaire.  He has just published a treatise on chemistry.  This is his true passion in life (along with Duclos).  As he enters the scene, along with his crony the Duchess d’Aumont, he brags to his wife that he has spent a day with the Cardinal (aka the Prime Minister), who is also a member of the Academy of Sciences.  The Cardinal praised the Prince’s treatise and sent him a casket containing an unknown substance.  [A servant brings the casket into the room.]  Prince:  “The Cardinal requested that I perform an analysis, both from a judicial and scientific point of view, of the substance contained in that casket — a myserious powder of deadly properties, which has been found in the house of a lady of high birth, accused of attempted murder!”

The Princess and Duchess are curious and want to examine the casket, but hubby warns them not to touch the substance.  Clearly, it contains some type of nerve agent, probably Novichok, probably planted in the lady’s house by a team of Russian spies:  “If I am told truly, one grain of this powder thrown into a pair of gloves, or sprinkled over a flower [!!!!!!], is sufficient at first to produce a vague stupor, then a strong aberration of the cerebrum, and finally a delirium which ends in death.”  And viewers of the opera know what is to come later:  The Princess will sprinkle this poison onto a bouquet of violets, send the violets to Adrienne, and Adrienne will die in Maurizio’s arms, precisely as described!

After introducing the poison, this clockwork plot nicely segues to the diamond braclet.  The Princess starts interrogating hubby where he has been the last few days.  (She is just play-acting, she knows he was with Duclos.)  Showing off his uxorious skills to the Abbé, the Prince publicly placates his wife by giving her the beautiful diamond bracelet.  The Princess and the Duchess then proceed to the next order of business:  The Duchess is a great admirer of the actress Adrienne and has heard that she is to give a private recitation tomorrow at the home of the Prince/Princess.  Viewers of the opera know that this will be the famous cat-fighting scene where Adrienne recites verses from Racine’s Phèdre in order to humiliate the Princess.

[to be continued]

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Adriana Conquers the Met – Part V

Dear Readers:

Continuing my review of the Metropolitan Opera production of Adriana Lecouvreur, starring Anna Netrebko in the title role.  Previously I made a vow to be a Structuralist and not poke back into the original source material.  Some vows are made to be broken.  In an earlier post, I provided a link to the text of the original play, but it is horrible, it’s all ASCII (not Unicode), many of the French letters are not rendered properly, and it is a torture to read.  It did allow me, however, to scan for the word “Duclos”.  This morning I attempted to find a better French text, but was not successful.  Instead, I found this google-scanned text of an English translation of the play.  People will have to settle for this.  Unlike the ASCII version, it is not word-searchable; but on the other hand, it will prove a boon for those readers who want to understand the plot but can’t read French!  Oh, I pity those poor fools who can’t read French; but on the other hand, I should not gloat too much, because I can’t read Italian!  Which closes off the Colautti libretto to me.

Which brings me to the issue of subtitles.  In my humble opinion, one of the greatest technological developments of Grand Opera in the past few decades, has been the use of subtitles projected above or below the stage.  Prior to this innovation, it could be torture to sit through a 5-hour opera and have very little clue what was going on at any given time.  Oh, for sure, people were given programs with a brief synopsis, but that’s not nearly the same thing as enjoying every line of dialogue, matching every word uttered to the emotions of the music.  Even if sung in one’s native language, it can be hard to catch every phrase; even more so if sung in a language one does not know; in my case, for example, Italian.  But with the subtitles/supertitles, one gets a completely different experience than just sitting through hours of blah-blah-blah and waiting for that well-known aria or show-piece.

Some people ask:  Should same-language operas still use subtitles?  For example, if one is in an English opera house having a gay old time and watching, say, Billy Budd, then should there be English subtitles?  The answer is YES!  Basically, it doesn’t hurt and can only help.  Even when it seems silly.  For example, I once attended a rather great production of Porgy and Bess in an American theater.  As Porgy was belting out “Bess, you is my woman now,” the supertitles obediently printed out “Bess, you is my woman now.”  (Thank goodness they didn’t try to translate from Negro patois into Standard!)  In any case, the redundancy didn’t hurt at all, and was possibly a boon to those members of the audience who can read English better than they can comprehend it, especially when sung.

Prior to the invention of subtitles, opera houses often translated operas from one language to another.  For example, Russian opera houses used to do this in the Soviet period, translating every major opera into Russian.  This was a misguided attempt to make the works accessible to the culture-hungry population.  In my opinion, this is a ghastly mistake.  I will never knowingly attend an opera that has been translated from its original language.  Once, by mistake, I attended a production of Rigoletto, not realizing that it was a translation into English.  So you had the Duke of Mantua singing his famous aria La donna è mobile something like, “Woman is Changeable, Woman is Frivolous”.  Egads, what a mess!

I might also mention that the subtitle technology blends perfectly with the “Live in HD” experience of watching these great operas in a movie theater.  People sitting in the Metropolitan Opera theater in New York City watch the action from a certain distance and see the action on the stage as a single frame.  Meanwhile, a completely different production team is recording the show live with its own set of cameras and technical directors.  Mobile cameras scoot along the stage, and the technical directors, making snap judgments in their booth, can switch from one angle to another, or bring us (viewers in the movie theater) a close-up of the singers.  Up close and personal, we watch them breathe and emote, we can see them sweat and even spit at each other!  It’s a completely different experience, and the subtitles add another layer of immediacy.  Plus, you can eat popcorn while you watch, something that is not possible in the actual opera theater.

Next:  We continue to break down the plot of Adriana…

[to be continued]

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Adriana Conquers the Met – Part IV

Dear Readers:

Welcome back to my review of the Metropolitan Opera production of Adriana Lecouvreur, starring Anna Netrebko in the title role.  Yesterday we discussed the clever device used by the playwrights, in which a major character, the actual crux of the important plotpoints and the center of the dramatic developments, is never seen.  We know that the elusive Mademoiselle Duclos exists, but she is always just somewhere else — perhaps in her dressing room offstage, perhaps travelling out of town in her pretty little carriage, while the up-stage action is going down.  Again, I don’t know the name of this particular literary device (and my friend Mr. Google was no help here), but I must say, it’s a corker!  In fact, I really think this opera should change its name to “Duclos” instead of “Adriana” !

Eugène Scribe

Anyhow, let us quickly review the names of the creative geniuses behind this work of art:  The original source material was the French play Adrienne Lecouvreur, written by the playrighting team of Ernest Legouvé and Eugène Scribe.   The play premiered in Paris, in 1849, at a time when Paris was the cultural capital of Europe.  The play is cleverly written (in my opinion), like any good play it is a clockwork device in which all the pieces fit together and there are no illogical holes.  Like a well-written module of computer code, every byte is in place, so to speak.  According to wiki, the famous actress Sarah Bernhardt herself performed the title role in an 1896 production.  An actress portraying an actress — that’s another cute device, the sort of “play within the play” thing.  The Met Opera production highlights this feature by building a small theater set on the stage of the Met.  In fact, in the opera, the very first words “spoken” by our diva, Adriana, are in fact “spoken” and not sung or recitative.  When we first meet Adriana, she is fussing about backstage practicing her lines.  In this production, the Russian soprano Anna Netrebko speaks (not sings) her first lines in Italian (not French), and we suspend disbelief, imagining that we are backstage at the Parisian theater, and that everybody is chattering away in French!  Thus proving once again the wholeness and beauty of European culture, the way it used to be… (sigh)

Ernest Legouvé

From play to opera:  Librettist Arturo Colautti reworked the French material into an Italian libretto, and Francesco Cilea composed the music.  There have been criticisms of Colautti for the confusing plot of the opera, but I reckon he was operating under well-known constraints.  For example, the plot would have been much clearer, if he could have kept that whole First Act set in the boudoir of the Princess of Bouillon.  Which, by the way, is where our word bullion comes from.  I always thought that the English word “bullion” meant a type of soup or broth; but, according to wiki, it means a gold or silver bar that has been “boiled” or melted down.

Returning to the melting-house of Madame’s boudoir:  Recall that Madame is the grand-daughter of a Polish King.  She would be literally boiling with rage (get it?) if she knew then what she comes to learn later:  That her Polish gigolo Maurice (Maurizio) is in love with a cheap little tart of an actress.  No, she doesn’t know that yet, but she knows most of the rest of the juicy gossip already.  Hence, most of the important explication is done right there, on the front-end, as software developers say.  As her confidante the Abbé chatters with Madame while watching her at her toilet.  STOP THAT!  you dirty peasant minds.  In European culture, a “lady at her toilet” simply meant a lady sitting in front of her mirror putting up her hair and applying her make-up.  But anyhow, this would have mean building an extra set, the Toilet Set.  Many operas already suffer from too many set changes; even in our modern world opera houses apparently have not yet mastered the Broadway technology of revolving stages and quick set changes.

Adriana watches Maurizio bow and scrape to the Princess of Bouillon.

So, instead, Colautti has most of this explicative conversation taking place in the theater-within-a-theater.  If you have been keeping score, then you already know the key players and their various relationships, which form a sort of topological map:
The Abbé is in love with Madame de Bouillon.  This is why he hangs around her all the time and pretends to be friends with her hubby, the Prince.  The Prince is publicly having an affair with the actress Mademoiselle Duclos.  Madame de Bouillon knows about hubby’s mistress, and is okay with it.  This is France, after all.  Hubby has hidden nothing from his wife, including his purchases for the mistress:  a diamond bracelet, a carriage, and a villa.  See, a successful marriage is all about honesty.  The Princess, Madame de Bouillon, is, in turn, having her own affair, with the gigolo, Maurice.  HOWEVER!  this is très importante so pay attention:  Hubby does NOT know about this affair.  See, it’s not really equal between men and women.  He can have a mistress, but she may not turn this grand man into a cuck.  To continue the topological chain:  Maurice has to kiss Madame’s … er… hand, because she provides him with krysha, but deep inside he is in love with Adriana.  If Adriana were to fall in love with the Abbé, then that would form a nicely-closed loop.  But no, she loves Maurice back.  In fact, they are the “two young lovers” fulfilling all the age- and gender-appropriate checklists of the Commedia dell’arte playbook!

[to be continued]

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Adriana Conquers the Met – Part III

Dear Readers:

Welcome back to my review of the Metropolitan Opera production of Adriana Lecouvreur, starring Anna Netrebko in the title role.  I liked this production a lot, but I will like it even more if I can succeed in breaking down this rather complicated drawing-room plot!

Act I

As the “play” opens, we first meet the stage manager, Monsieur Michonnet, backstage at the Comédie-Française. Michonnet is the heart and soul, and heart of gold, of this theatrical company.  As we learned yesterday, he bears an unrequited love for his star actress, Adriana.  His job is to manage the shows and keep all these major egos in line.

The famous Comédie-Française in Paris

Next we meet the Prince of Bouillon, accompanied by his constant sidekick, the Abbé (sung in this production by Carlo Bosi).  The Prince is a fatuous bully who is unaware that his wife is having an affair with the young buck Maurizio.  The Prince is literally a cuck!  But don’t feel sorry for him, he himself is having an affair with the actress Duclos!  And this brings up an extremely interesting feature of this story:  The key personage of this whole complicated storyline is not Adriana, no, no, it is actually Duclos!  And yet, there is no such personage in the list of characters, neither in the play nor the opera based on the play.  Does Mademoiselle Duclos even exist?  Astute Literature Majors will recognize this device:  Namely, when the plot centers around a character whom we never actually meet.  There might even be a name for this device, but I don’t know what it is.  I could call it the Keyser Söze device, except that we do eventually meet Keyser Söze, and we never get to meet Duclos. In any case, it leads to this sidebar:

Sidebar on the Mysterious Duclos

So, I scanned the full text of the play upon which this opera is based, and found no less than 48 references to the invisible Duclos!  If Michonnet is the heart and soul of the theater troupe, then the invisible diva Duclos is the heart and soul of this story.  Simply following this word search through the text, I was able to uncover the major plot points.

Starting right from the top, in Act I, Scene I, which takes place in the boudoir of the Princess of Bouillon.  Her confidant, the Abbé, dishes the latest gossip while she puts on her make-up and does up her hair:  “You heard that Mademoiselle Lecouvreur and Mademoiselle Duclos will be performing together tonight? There will be an immense crowd…”  [after some backchat, he continues]:  “It will be all the more piquant since Lecouvreur and Duclos are in an open rivalry.  Adrienne owns the public, but Duclos is protected by powerful patrons, by great men and even some great women, including the Princess of Bouillon!”

The Princess:  By me?

John III Sobieski, King of Poland and Grand Duke of Lithuania (reigned 1674-1696)

[After some arm twisting, the Abbé dishes about hubby’s affair with Duclos]:  “Very well, Madame.  Since you insist that I tell you…  You, the grand-daughter of Sobieski and close relative of our Queen, you have as your rival Mademoiselle Duclos, a mere actress at the Comédie-Française.”

[The Princess then reveals that she knows all about hubby’s affair, is having one herself, not only forgives Duclos, but also protects her.  As the Russians would say, provides her with krysha.  The Princess also mentions, and pay attention to this!!  —  she is fully aware that her husband bought Duclos a carriage, a diamond bracelet, and even a small villa to live in.  Like Chekhov’s rifle on the wall, these mentioned objects will come into play later.]

[The Abbé goes on to declare his own love for the Princess, says she is the reason why he got close to their family, the reason why he bothers to go to the opera and to visit Duclos and put up with all of this b.s.]

[In a later scene, more guests have arrived, including the Duchess Athenais and Maurice.  The Princess chatting with hubby and guests, as they evaluate various acting styles:  “Mademoiselle Duclos, it seems to me, is vastly superior to her rival…”

Athenais: “I am warning you that Madame de Bouillon does not share my enthusiasm (for Adriana), she is passionate about Mademoiselle Duclos, whose emphatic declamation I personally regard as a type of continuous chant!”

[In a later scene, when the Princess and her Polish boy-toy Maurice are finally alone, she reproaches him for his absence and recent coldness.  Her eagle eyes notice that he wears a bouquet of violets pinned to his buttonhole.  From watching the opera version, we know that he has been at the theater, rendez-voused with Adrienne, and she gave him the simple bouquet as a token of her love.  The violets are also Chekhov’s rifle, it goes without saying.  Or more like a double-barreled shotgun loaded for bear!]

[When confronted about the violets, Maurice laughs it off and hands the bouquet to the Princess, pretending that he bought them for her at some flower shop near his hotel.  Nota bene, these are the same violets that the Princess will later squirt poison into, and give back to Adrienne!]

The Princess to Maurice:  “Listen to me carefully.  The Prince [my hubby] bought for Duclos a small villa, very charming and nice, near the Grange-Bateliere…  I have a key to it, it’s the only place where I can meet you in private.”

AHA!  So that’s the villa where the main action takes place, in Act II of the opera!

[to be continued]

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Adriana Conquers the Met – Part II

Dear Readers:

Welcome back to my review of the Metropolitan Opera production of Adriana Lecouvreur, starring Anna Netrebko as the famous diva.  I mentioned that the plot, based on the  1849 play Adrienne Lecouvreur by Eugène Scribe and Ernest Legouvé, is rather complicated and hard to follow.  I suppose I could try to read the play, it’s written in French and I have a passable reading knowledge of French.  Hmm…. I just did a quickie search of the web and found this free copy of the text of the original play.  Somebody didn’t know their Unicode, and the special characters are not rendered properly, but it’s still readable.  Well, maybe later…  For now I just try to break down the plot as best I can.
“Without referring to the source material,” as the Structuralists used to say.

Anita Rachvelishvili as the Princess of Bouillon

So, one of the main characters in this story is the Princess de Bouillon.  In this Met production, the role was sung by the amazing Gruzian mezzo-soprano Anita Rachvelishvili.  Anita’s voice gets better and stronger with every season!  Friends backstage, but onstage she and Anna Netrebko make a formidable pair of enemies.  The two ladies paired off earlier this season as romantic rivals in Aida, now they are at it again, still competing for the same man, this time not Radames, but rather the handsome Maurizio.  Anita, who is revealed backstage as a very nice and sweet person, has the chops to plays a magnificent villainess.

Things to know:  The Princess of Bouillon is married to the Prince of Bouillon, sung in this production by the paradoxically named Italian bass Maurizio Muraro.  Is the Princess faithful to her beloved husband?  Not on your life!  She is having an affair with that other Maurizio, the Prince of Saxony and Pretender to the Polish throne!  Does she love Maurizio?  Yes, obsessively.  (Anita is quite good at portraying female obsessive love!)  Does Maurizio love her back?  No.  In fact, he despises her, as he later confides to Adriana.  Then why is he sleeping with a woman he despises?  Well, ambition, obviously.  The Princess is in some way equipped to help Maurizio evade his enemies (of which there are legion, she explains to him) and hoist him up onto the Polish throne.

The noble (in spirit) stage manager, Michonnet

The only thing standing in the way of this happy denouement is Maurizio’s romantic fling with a commoner, a stage actress and therefore by definition a slut.  The lovely and charming Adriana wows the audiences of the Comédie-Française with her declamations and soliloquies from dramatic plays such as Racine’s Phèdre.  When the opera opens in Act I, Adriana and Maurizio are already an item, we don’t know where or how they met, but one can guess that Maurizio came to see a play, was wowed by the actress, and got himself a backstage pass, if you know what I mean… wink wink nudge nudge…  The Princess of Bouillon does not know about her lover’s fling with the actress; if she knew she would probably have prepared the poison much earlier in the show.

The other thing to know is that Adriana doesn’t know that Maurizio is the Prince of Saxony.  Apparently he is just passing himself off as a humble Ensign in the French army.  And this is a very old gambit in European literature and opera:  The Prince or Nobleman going in disguise as a commoner to woo a commoner lady.  Why?  For two reasons:  (1) It’s just a fling and he doesn’t want her to get big ideas; and (2) If it’s more than a fling, then he wants to test her love and make sure she isn’t just a gold-digger.  Hence, Prince Maurizio is only following the rules of the genre.

Cupid Does Not Discriminate Based On Age

The other thing to know, and just to add to the romantic complications, is that Adriana’s stage manager, Michonnet, is hopelessly in love with her (=Adriana).  Michonnet is old and fat, and he knows that Adriana is out of his league, but still dares to nurture some hope.  He recently came into a small inheritance and would be able to support a wife.  In Italian comedy tradition, dating back to Commedia dell’arte, and even earlier, to the ancient Roman plays of Plautus and Terence, the lovesick old man is a source of mirth.  Italian tradition is quite brutal in its propagation of stereotypes, including rules about what is “age-appropriate” as well as gender-appropriate.  Classic Italian opera, at its core, is the inheritor of these conservative stereotypes and social rules.  For example, operas such as Don Pasquale (Donizetti) and Falstaff (Verdi) ruthlessly mock the old fool who thinks to acquire the love of a young woman.

Tchaikovsky: Knew what it was like, to love inappropriately.

Cilea is more sympathetic and more humane.  He does not hold Michonnet up for ridicule.  On the contrary, Michonnet stands as the moral core of the opera.  He is a true friend and mentor to Adriana.  It is just sad, not funny, that his love cannot be requited.  But, like Don Pasquale, he comes to accept that fact and he learns to comport himself with dignity.  It is a cruel world, indeed, in which Cupid’s arrows strike all ages alike; one recalls the words of the elderly Prince Gremin in Tchaikovsky’s opera Eugene Onegin:   Любви все возрасты покорны (“All ages submit to love”) in explaining his devotion to his young wife.  Sad, because the love is almost never requited.  The one exception I know of, in all the repertoire (Tchaikovsky again), being the love of a teenaged Maria for the old and craggy Hetman Mazeppa, whom she chose over all the young bucks in her Ukrainian village.

But I digress, and it is time to return to the passionate (and highly appropriate) love between those two crazy kids, Adriana and her backstage admirer, whom she believes to be a humble Ensign.  And whose career, humorously, she believes that she can help to advance by putting a word in the ear of the Prince of Bouillon…

[to be continued]

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Adriana Conquers the Met – Part I

Dear Opera Lovers:

This past Saturday I saw the new Metropolitan Opera production of Adriana Lecouvreur, starring Anna Netrebko as the famous diva.  As usual, I watched the (live) opera in my humble, local movie theater, taking advantage of the Met’s Saturday matinee “Live in HD” technology.  First of all, the show was stupendous!  The three leads were in excellent voice, and the production values rocked.  The Baroque Ballet number was fantastic, I’ll get to that later.  There was nothing not to like about this production!  Hence, what follows is not a critique, but (hopefully) a breakdown of the plot along with some background info.

Francesco Cilea (Palmi, 1866-Varazze, 1950), Italian composer.

The composer of this brilliant Italian opera was a man named Francesco Cilea.  He was from the “later” classical period (born 1866, died 1950).  Inspired by the great Italian composers such as Bellini, he studied music at the Conservatory of Naples.  In the backstage commentary at the Met, also in commentaries on the Met radio programs, knowledgeable people kept referring to Cilea’s opera “Adriana” as in the Italian verismo (or “realistic”) tradition.  Examples being the operas of Pietro Mascagni, Ruggero Leoncavallo, and Giacomo Puccini.  The poster child for verismo is Mascagni’s short opera Cavalleria rusticana (“Rustic Chivalry”) which is about the lives of ordinary men and women in an Italian village.  The definition must be fairly loose, however, since the genre also includes works, such as Adriana, which involves people in high society, not to mention highly melodramatic plot elements.  Quoting wiki:  “In terms of subject matter, generally verismo operas focused not on gods, mythological figures, or kings and queens, but on the average contemporary man and woman and their problems, generally of a sexual, romantic, or violent nature.”  Again, this doesn’t really fit Adriana, since the heroine is dating a Polish prince.

Caruso in the famous role of “The Clown” in the verismo opera Pagliacci

Musically, the verismo genre is distinguished from bel canto and, in a way, closer to Wagner; wiki again:  “Musically, verismo composers consciously strove for the integration of the opera’s underlying drama with its music.  These composers abandoned the recitative and set-piece structure of earlier Italian opera. Instead, the operas were through-composed, with few breaks in a seamlessly integrated sung text.”

The vocal demands on the singers are excruciating:  “The most extreme exponents of verismo vocalism sang habitually in a vociferous fashion, often forfeiting legato to focus on the passionate aspect of the music. They would ‘beef up’ the timbre of their voices, use excessive amounts of vocal fold mass on their top notes, and often employ a conspicuous vibrato in order to accentuate the emotionalism of their ardent interpretations. The results could be exciting in the theatre but such a strenuous mode of singing was not a recipe for vocal longevity.”

Which brings us to our current Diva, Anna Netrebko, as one of only an elite handful of opera sopranos around today, who are capable of singing this demanding role!

The Real Adriana

Cilea’s heroine is based on a real person, the French actress Adrienne Lecouvreur, who wowed Parisian audiences at the Comédie-Française theater.  This theater was known, informally, to the public as “The House of Molière”.  The Met staging did a nice bit, by placing a bust of Molière prominently upstage in the scenes set in the theater.  Known as the patron saint of French actors, Molière’s spirit hovers over the proceedings.  And (this is just me), do I also detect a hint of Molière in the “bedroom farce” aspects of the plot?  I mean, that bit where people are running around hiding from each other in their own villa?

French drama: It’s all about Molière.

The real Adrienne was born in 1692 and died 38 years later, in 1730.  Cilea’s opera is set in 1730, the day of her death.  Her portrait shows her to be a pretty brunette.  It is said that her wild popularity with the public was based on her own “verismo” of style:  Unlike the others, she did not orate nor wave her arms about.  She was known for her simplicity of emotional style and recitation.  The operatic Adriana states that her only goal is the search for the Truth.

According to her wiki, the real Adrienne was, indeed, rumored to have a steamy affair with “Maurice of Saxony” (“Maurizio” in the opera); and to have been poisoned by her romantic rival, the Duchess of Bouillon.  Historians have not been able to confirm these rumors, but the story was so ripping that it became the basis for several plays and poems.  Cilea’s librettist, Arturo Colautti, adapted his material from the 1849 play “Adrienne Lecouvreur” penned by Eugène Scribe and Ernest Legouvé.  The last two can be blamed for the overly-confusing plot; quoting wiki again:  “While there are some actual historical figures in the opera, the episode it recounts is largely fictional; its death-by-poisoned-violets plot device is often signalled as verismo opera’s least realistic.  It is often condemned as being among the most confusing texts ever written for the stage, and cuts that have often been made in performance only make the story harder to follow.”  I have to agree with that criticism.  I was thoroughly confused by the end of the show.  I mean, I got it that the Princess poisoned Adriana by adding a little Novichok to her violets.  But prior to that denouement, I was terribly confused by that whole scene in the Prince’s villa.  Or was it Maurizio’s villa?  When the two divas encounter each other in the dark, and one hands the other a key; and one steals the other’s violets; and the other steals the other’s necklace — what was up with that??  Huh??!!  This plot had more twists than a Netflix special!

Maurizio: “Don’t look at me, I didn’t understand the plot either!”

But hopefully I can get to the bottom of these mysteries.  In fact, that is one extra reason I am writing this review, not only because I loved the show and the singers; but also because I want to work out in my own mind what actually happened up there on that stage of ultra-realistic verismo!  And if any opera lovers out there can help me with this, please post a comment!

Okay, now let’s take a step back and begin with our hero, the noble Maurizio, Duke of Saxony and Pretender to the Polish Throne!  At the start of the opera, was this Pretender actually pretending to be just a humble Ensign in the French army?  And if so, why?

[to be continued]

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Characteristics and Limitations of Ukrainian Tomos – Part VI

Dear Readers:

Today, appropriately on a Sunday morning, before going to church to pray, finishing up my translation of this analysis of the new Ukrainian Autocephaly.

But first a pop quiz:  What is an Exarch?  Answer:  An Exarch is a foreign Ambassador for an Orthodox Patriarch.  Second question:  What is the difference between an Orthodox Metropolitan and a Patriarch?  Answer:  Around $100K per year.  Actually, that’s just a guess.  I did some googling, and while Metropolitan salaries are posted (depending on the country, in the range of $80K -$100K), nobody seems to know what a Patriarch makes.  I reckon their salaries are so high, that it must be a state secret.  They certainly do not abide by the requirement Jesus asked of them, namely to sell all their goods, give their $$$ to the poor and live in poverty.

Each candle = more $$$ for Bart!

Nor do they want to repeat one of Christ’s best performance art bits, in which he marched into the temple and overthrow the money-changers and various other dodgy income-streams.  A bit further down, we will read in the Tomos, how Patriarch Bart is getting his hands on some new Ukrainian real estate; this land-grab is known by the fancy Greek name of Stauropigia.  Keep this in mind, because Burega doesn’t mention this, but these monasteries and cathedrals and the like are not just brick-and-mortal assets, they are also revenue streams.  Every time a head-covered devout Ukrainian lady goes in and buys a candle, her money will shortly be on its way to Istanbul, and into Bartholomew’s coffers!

So, where we left off, Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople had added all kinds of clauses and stipulations into his Tomos, trying to patch up any loopholes and bullet-proof it against Ukrainian peasant cunning.  As we noted, Ukrainians are not allowed to cook up their own Holy Myrrh, nor can they set their own rules.  Sort of hammering it in, that their church is under HIM, Brother Bart, he is the Big Cheese and they are just the lowly sheep, ready for the fleecing.

Filaret: “I deserved to get that role….”

Meanwhile, I heard on the Hollywood grapevine, that Bartholomew and his Exarchs are getting sick of Filaret’s constant meddling.  Next pop quiz:  Who is Filaret?  Filaret is the self-called Patriarch of the Ukrainian Church, but he is not recognized by anybody.  In other words, he is not a real Patriarch, except in his own back yard.  The guy has an ego though, and is none too thrilled about being passed over for the Primate gig, in favor of his pupil Epiphany.  In Hollywood terms, Filaret is Margo Channing and Epiphany is Anne Baxter.  In Kung Fu terms, the Student became the Master!  See, when Filaret recently had his Anathema removed (by Doctor Bart), he believed, innocently, this was Step #1 to the Big Gig.  He saw this as karmic vindication, he was going to be legitimized as the Patriarch of All Ukraine, wear the big boy’s dress, and receive the unpublished salary!  Instead, he was rudely shoved aside, the job went to his acolyte, and the acolyte settled for the lesser role as Metropolitan.  Better to serve in Heaven than rule in Hell.  And a guaranteed job is better than being out of work.  That was Epiphany’s Epiphany.

I reckon Office Politics can be a bear, even in the sweet and forgiving world of Orthodox Christianity.  Instead of going gently into that good night, Filaret appears to be putting up a fight;  if this were a real office he would file a lawsuit for wrongful termination.  He flails and tries ever harder to exert his baleful influence over Epiphany.  The latter probably torn between loyalty to his former guru, and needing to please his betters.  Hence, Bart’s Exarch, the Archbishop Daniil was forced to criticize Filaret openly in an interview the BBC.  “He should just let Epiphany do his job!” an exasperated Exarch Daniil complained.

Having explained all of those complicated theological issues, it is now time to turn it back to Vladimir Burega, his next section is entitled, appropriately enough

The Diaspora, the Exarchs, and the Right of Stauropigia

Professor Vladimir Burega

If you please, the most painful clause of the (Ukrainian) Tomos is the demand that the OCU abstain from creating its own structures beyond the borders of the Ukraine.  Not one single Tomos issued in earlier times, ever contained such a requirement.  However in the 5 January Tomos it is very clearly stated, that the jurisdiction of the OCU is limited to the territory of the Ukraine.  The Kiev Metropolitan “may not appoint bishops or found parishes outside of the borders of the state”.  All the church structures that exist beyond Ukrainian borders, from this moment on, move into the jurisdiction of the Constantinople Patriarch.

And here we need to explain, that the term “Orthodox Diaspora” refers to all those Orthodox (believers) who live in countries that do not have their own national Orthodox churches (we are talking about, primarily, Western Europe and America).  The Constantinople Patriarch regards as his exclusive right to provide Orthodox believers on these territories with his spiritual nourishment.

Sculpture from Donskoy Monastery in Moscow shows Sacred Stauropigia

However, recent migrants strive to maintain their connection with their national churches.  Not only Orthodox Ukrainians, but also Romanians, Serbs, Bulgarians, who find themselves living outside the borders of their own countries, are not at all interested in integrating themselves into the church structures of other churches.  For this reason, practically all of the national churches nowadays have foreign filials, which help with the needs of the migrants.  But the OCU has been directly forbidden the right to create such (filial) structures.  It is thought that it (the OCU) will be forced to conduct uneasy negotiations with the Constantinople Patriarch, regarding the appointment of Ukrainian priests to offer services to the Ukrainian religious communities abroad.  It would seem that subordinating these communities to the Greek priests does not appear to be realistic.

And, finally, we need to pay attention to that brief clause (in the Tomos) whereby the Constantinople Patriarch preserves, in the Ukraine, both his Exarchate and his “Sacred Stauropigia”.  It would behoove us to read this clause in the context of the original Greek formulation.  In the Ukrainian translation it sounds like the creation, on Ukrainian territory, of an Exarchate of the Constantinople Patriarch.  Under this reading, the Exarchate is understood as a special territorial structure, separate from the jurisdiction of the OCU and directly subordinate to the Ecumenical Patriarch [Bartholomew].  But it is also possible that this refers not to a territorial structure, but rather to the [persons of the]Exarchs of the Constantinople Patriarch, who will continue, even after the granting of Autocephaly, their terms of service in the Ukraine.  In either case, this means that on the territory of the Ukraine, the official representation  of the Constantinople Patriarch will be preserved, and headed by an Exarch or Exarchs.

Bart: “I’m the boss, and what I say, goes!”

It is customary to use the term “Stauropigias” for those church structures (monasteries, cathedrals, fellowships) which are taken away from the rule of the national church hierarchy and are directly subordinate to the Patriarch.  At one time the Kiev-Pecherskaya Lavra,  the Kievo-Bratsky Monastery, the Uspenskoe Brotherhood in Lvov and (various) other church structures on the territory of contemporary Ukraine were all Stauropigias of Constantinople.  What (other structures) will be handed over to the jurisdiction of Constantinople, we do not know yet.  But it is clear already that a number of Stauropigias will be created on Ukrainian territory.


As we have seen, the Tomos establishes a quite rigid framework for the further development of the OCU.  The Constantinople Patriarch has laid out more than a few limitations, meant to prevent undesirable (from his point of view) processes within the OCU.  And via the institution of the Exarchs and the Stauropigia, the Ecumenical Patriarch has created for himself a convenient mechanism for exerting influence over the Ukrainian religious situation, even into the future. [yalensis:  not to mention, enhancing his personal revenue stream, at the expense of Ukrainian Believers.]

It is easy to prognose, that the OCU will not feel completely comfortable within these constraints.  Will it attempt to push them aside?  Will the Constantinople Patriarch rigidly demand unbending compliance with the terms of the Tomos?  Or will he close his eyes to violations of the rules that he established?  The answers to these questions will determine the future of the newly-created church structure.

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