Continuing with my review of the Metropolitan Live in HD production of Francesco Cilea’s Adriana Lecouvreur! And working through the complicated plot with the assistance of this English translation of the original French play. As we have learned, there are a lot of Russian angles to this story, not to mention Polish ones. Our intrepid hero, Maurice de Saxe, the Duke of Courland, is a possible Pretender to the Polish throne. We learned about the series of unfortunate events which caused him to join the French army, in the service of King Louis XV.
All that is left, mainly, is to break down the “darkroom” scene in which Adrienne and the Princess of Bouillon inadvertently exchange tokens – the diamond bracelet for the bouquet. In the opera, this scene was sort of botched, because (1) We are not sure where all this cloak-and-dagger is taking place (well, at least, I wasn’t sure, maybe it’s just me); and (2) we never saw that diamond bracelet before (again, maybe just me, with all the subtitles in the world I could have missed that point, and I can’t go back to the Italian libretto to check because I can’t read Italian!)
Meet the Gigolo
Anyhow, where we left off (in the play), we just met Maurice; a few minutes later Maurice and the Princess are finally alone, and this is where we learn for the first time that they are lovers. She is suspicious, though, because he didn’t write to her for two months, and she didn’t even know until now that he had returned to Paris. She jealously notes the bouquet of violets in his buttlehole. We (play-goers) don’t know yet that he received these flowers from Adrienne. In the opera we already know this, because we already met Adriana and saw her give the flowers to Maurizio. Egads! I really think the opera libretto should have stayed more true to the original material and sequence of events, it makes for a much cleaner storyline!
Maurice glibly lies about the flowers, he says he bought them from an insistent flower-girl, and he hands them to the Princess. The Princess does not buy his lie for one millisecond (the flowers are tied up with a silken cord), but pretends to. (Later, in the denouement, she will use her husband’s casket of poison to contaminate these same flowers and send them back to Adrienne.) Still asserting her power over her boy-toy, she assures Maurice that he will get his two regiments (she will use her influence in the government), which he requested of the Cardinal, and the Cardinal refused. Recall that the Cardinal is also the Prime Minister of France. And he does not like Maurice one bit, which is why Maurice needs so much krysha from the Princess.
And here is the BIG SET-UP for the darkroom scene: The Princess must travel to Versailles to put in the good word with the Cardinal. But while she is gone, Maurice needs a safe crib to hole up in.
Maurice: “I shall come here.”
Princess: “No, not here, there are too many inquisitive eyes in this house, not to speak of my husband.”
She goes on to tell him about the villa which hubby purchased for his mistress, Mademoiselle Duclos. Maurice will correspond only with Duclos, who will set up his reservations for a room. In an aside, Maurice tells the audience that it is time to come clean and let the Princess know that he is in love with another woman… and the playwright cleverly leads us to believe that it is Duclos, thus saving a juicy reveal when the hottie turns out to be Adrienne! But their conversation is interrupted. “Another time… Adieu…” Maurice murmurs.
After Maurice has left, the Princess obsesses jealously about the flowers, and who is this great love, for whom Maurice turned down the hand of the Tsar’s daughter? She must know he truth! When the Abbé re-enters the room, she sort of hires him as a private detective, and orders him to find out, whom Maurice loves.
Act II = Act I
Act II of the play takes place at the Comédie-Française, which is where the opera started in its Act I. (The opera libretto thus skipping all the prior important exposition, and then trying to make up for it by tossing out random clues.) In a rare cross-over very special event, tonight Adrienne and Duclos are performing together for the very first time, on the same stage, in Racine’s Bajazet, a Tragedy in 5 acts. Adrienne is reading the part of Roxana. Don’t worry, I don’t plan to read Bajazet and then summarize the entire plot, I leave that exercise to Literature majors. The stage directions stipulate the bust of Molière, which was a prominent prop in the Met production. Backstage, we see the various actors and actresses in their Turkish costumes, rehearsing their lines. And we meet the Stage Manager, Michonnet, who is a key character in the opera and sung ably by Italian bass Ambrogio Maestri.
In some backstage dialogue between Adrienne and Michonnet, we learn about the thrilling occasion on which Adrienne met her boyfriend: The night of an opera ball, four ruffians started harassing her as she tried to return to her carriage. Suddenly, out of nowhere, a dashing young men sprang to her rescue. Shouting “Do you not know that this the actress Adrienne Lecouvreur!”, the hero and devoted fan defeated the ruffians in a 4 to 1 swordfight, forcing them to retreat. Adrienne next met her rescuer the following morning, when he called on her to inquire of her health. “He told me that he was a foreign officer in the French service.” It was Maurice, of course, but Adrienne does not know (yet) that her humble “officer” is actually a Duke. “Had he been rich or noble, I should not have cared for him,” Adrienne tells Michonnet dreamily. “But he was poor, struggling, dreaming, like myself, of love and glory. How could I resist him?” This dialogue shows Adrienne to be the pure-hearted romantic that she is, and no Cinderella nor gold-digger!
[to be continued]