Continuing with my review of the Metropolitan Live in HD production of Francesco Cilea’s Adriana Lecouvreur! And working through the plot with the assistance of this English translation of the original French play. The play, written in 1849 by the writing team of Ernest Legouvé and Eugène Scribe, is an absolute perfection of intricate plotting. Like a piece of clockwork, wheels within wheels, intrigues within intrigues! Almost like a finely written module of computer code, with nary a byte out of place! And one should not be surprised at this perfection, since France, in its Golden Age, was the nation that produced Racine and Molière, two guys (among others) who knew the art of writing the perfect play!
In Act I we met our dashing hero, Maurice de Saxe. Maurice is a very likable guy with a couple of minor character flaws; for example, he loves to wow the ladies with his ripping war stories. He is a bit of a braggart, but ultimately saved by his self-deprecating humor. His other character flaw is ambition. And again, this is nothing serious or damning. After all, he gave up a chance to sit on the Russian throne because he is in love with a simple Parisian girl (=Adrienne) and refused to marry the Russian Princess. His ambitions are limited, and reasonable. He aims to go only as high as Duke of Courland with a couple of regiments to protect him against the Russian Prince Menshikov. However, even this limited ambition sent him on the wrong path, when he entered into a liaison with the evil Princess of Bouillon. At this point in the story, he wants out of this toxic relationship, but doesn’t know how. The Princess is a barracuda, and she will not take it lightly if he dumps her. We’re talking “crazy chick” here.
In Act II (and this is where the opera actually begins, having skipped all of the play’s Act I), we finally meet our heroine, Adrienne. She is a perfect human being, with no character flaws. In her dialogue with the stage manager Michonnet, we see into her soul, and we see how cool she is. She is kind, thoughtful, simple in her needs but highly talented, a passionate seeker of The Truth; and — best of all — not a gold-digger, even though she could be. (The star actresses of those days, like today, could often have their pick of powerful men.) No sir, when she fell in love with Maurice, she didn’t know anything about him, or that he is of royal blood. He passed himself off to her as a simple soldier, a foreigner in the service of the King. That was three months ago.
Adrienne to Michonnet: “Three months ago he left France to seek his fortune with the young Count de Saxe, his countryman [a lie! that’s him!]; this morning he returned.”
We already learned that when Maurice returned to Paris (“this morning”, as Adrienne said) he made a beeline for his true love, and she gave him the bouquet of violets. The Princess only learned second-hand about Maurice’s return. She was miffed about that, and, when Maurice finally did show up at her door, she caught him in a lie about the violets. This jealous b*** now suspects that her boy-toy is seeing someone else; she has employed her crony the Abbé to figure out who it is. The Abbé subcontracted this task to the Prince, who uses his backstage contacts to ferret out the truth (or what he thinks is the truth).
Still chatting with Michonnet, Adrienne is excited that her boyfriend will watch her perform the role of Roxana. And it’s an extra-special performance, because this is the first time ever that Adrienne will face off (in the same play) against her artistic rival, Mademoiselle Duclos. Recall that Duclos is the actual crux, or gear, around which this entire intricate plot revolves; and yet — genius! — we never actually get to meet, or even see her. She is the unseen glue that holds everything together.
In the next scene, Maurice, having parted from Princess Barracuda, has talked his way into a backstage pass and entered the “Green Room” where Adrienne is still rehearsing her lines. The two young lovers chat (and sing a duet). Maurice is still maintaining his fiction of being a humble soldier in the employ of the Count de Saxe. Adrienne teases him about his poor spelling; she has been tutoring him in French. We see how compatible these two are, in their humorous and affectionate relationship. They will make a good couple, eventually Maurice will tell her who he really is, and they will get married and live happily ever after! (Or at least they will, after I fix the ending…)
In the next scene, Maurice retreats to his seat in Box 3, just missing the Prince and Abbé. The Prince is ticked, as he just learned the (incorrect) news that Maurice is having an affair with Duclos. “Well, I was already thinking of breaking it off with her,” he shrugs philosophically.
This is a rather clever plot point, which Colautti botched in the opera libretto. Recall that in Act I the Princess had ordered Maurice to stay at the Duclos Safe House at the Grange Batelière. (The Princess is in cahoots with her hubby’s mistress.) Maurice was to wait for Duclos to write him a letter confirming his reservation and giving the all-clear. Sure enough, Duclos (whose first name we learn is “Constance“) has composed a short letter to Maurice, confirming that he should come over that night. The Prince has bribed Constance’s maid, Penelope, to poke around in her employer’s dressing room, she found the letter and delivered it to the Prince, who showed it to the Abbé. This is why the Prince now incorrectly believes that his mistress, Duclos, is having an affair with Maurice. The Prince hails a callboy and hands him the letter, telling him to deliver it to the intended recipient, Maurice, in Box 3. That was actually nice of him to do.
Except that… the Prince has an ulterior motive, beyond delivering stolen epistles to their proper recipients. He plans to burst into Constance’s villa after the play, catch her in the act with Maurice, make a big row, and use that as an excuse to break it off with her. (At which point, poor Duclos will probably have to vacate her love nest!) The Prince enlists the Abbé in this cunning plot, but the Abbé goes him one better. Pointing out that the villa actually belongs to him (=the Prince), he suggests that the Prince invite all the company of the Théâtre-Français to dinner that night at the villa. Maurice, expecting a private tête-à-tête with Duclos, will be shocked to find everybody there, yelling “Surprise!” when he strolls in.
Prince: “Mars and Venus!”
Abbé: “Comedietta in one act, with a vengeance for a moral!”
These two rascals exult in their own cleverness! And thus most of the pieces are in place now for that confusing “dark room” scene which takes place at the Grange Batelière and concludes the over-loaded Act II of the opera.
Moral of the story: Beautiful actresses and other ladies out there, do you see why you should not become the mistress of a rich man? Even if he buys you diamonds and puts you up in a fancy villa? Because (a) you will have no privacy or any guaranteed time to yourself, (b) the rich man’s wife will treat you like a hotel service; and (c) the rich man may come bursting in at any time, along with 100 friends demanding supper! This is why it is better to earn your own bread and have your own little space, however humble.
[to be continued]