Continuing with my review of the Metropolitan Live in HD production of Francesco Cilea’s Adriana Lecouvreur! Still plugging through the plot with the assistance of this English translation of the original French play. Personally, I think that every performance of this great opera should be preceded by a performance of the play — in the original French, of course, with subtitles in the local dialect. They could do it like a Wagner Ring Cycle sort of thing, with the play one night, and the opera the following night. That way, people would already know who is who and what is going on, and be able to enjoy Cilea’s gorgeous music all the more!
Where we left off in our plot recap, the Prince of Bouillon and his sidekick, the Abbé, have set a trap for our hero, Maurice de Saxe. Believing (incorrectly) that Maurice is having an affair with the Prince’s mistress. Duclos (he isn’t, he is actually having an affair with Adrienne), the two rascals have organized a big supper at Villa Duclos, inviting everybody from the theater.
Meanwhile, Maurice, sitting in Box #3 at the Theater and listening to Adrienne’s triumphant soliloquy, is in a terrible quandary. He has received Duclos’ note (in the name of the Princess) requesting his presence at her villa and promising him news of his military appointment. Yet he also has a date with Adrienne that evening (probably at her place, I am guessing dinner followed by sex), so he doesn’t know what to do, or how to let her (Adrienne) know that he must cancel the date.
Maurice leaves his box and wanders around backstage, looking for Adrienne and getting in the way of the stagehands. There is a bit of stage business where Michonnet has temporarily misplaced, and then found, a prop letter (just a blank page of parchment) which he needs to get to the character of Roxana (played by Adrienne) in the next scene. Maurice, still buzzing about backstage, sees an opportunity, so, when nobody is looking, he writes a brief note to Adrienne on the prop letter. This scene with the prop letter is actually in the opera libretto, but when I watched it, I was quite confused what was going on, as the subtitles flashed by rather quickly. Now I get it. Another clever gear within this clever clockwork piece! When the actress portraying “Zatima” delivers the letter to “Roxana” onstage, the latter turns pale, Really, all that Maurice penned was a one-liner cancelling his date: “Duties which I cannot explain, prevent me.” By himself, Maurice bitterly reproaches himself for letting his hopes of winning back the Duchy of Courland, get in the way of his love life: “She’ll have the paper — she will know that I can’t come this evening. Oh, my Duchy of Courland, you are costing me very dear!” You’re right about that, Dude. You should have kept your date with Adrienne instead. Then she wouldn’t end up dead later. Dudes: Never cancel a date with your girlfriend unless you absolutely have to, otherwise they might end up being poisoned by some kind of nerve agent on a flower…
Anyhow, like I said, Adrienne gets the prop letter on stage, reads it, starts to tremble, and her acting gets better than ever! The audience screams “Bravissima!” as she storms offstage looking for Maurice. But he is gone already. She is upset that (1) her boyfriend cancelled their date on the night of her greatest triumph, and (2) didn’t even stick around to watch her basking in the applause. Yes, truly Maurice made the wrong choice here. And it will cost both of them very dearly. SPOILER ALERT! History records that Maurice never did get his Duchy back, and had to remain in service to the King of France the rest of his life. The cad!
Meanwhile, it is the end of Act I (in the theater within a theater) and the beginning of the Intermission. In those days Intermissions were a big deal. Even more so than today. I don’t know what people did for bathrooms in those days, and they hadn’t invented popcorn yet, but I think they had champagne and stuff at the buffet. Or the dandies would crowd around to schmooze with the actresses. So, everybody is crowding around to praise Adrienne to the skies and diss her (unseen) rival, Duclos, whose soliloquys were just “sing-song recitation”, in Michonnet’s words. The Prince invites Adrienne to the big party that night at Villa Duclos. Everybody who is anybody, will be there. Even the young Count of Saxony! Recall that Adrienne does not know that her boyfriend is precisely this Count. He has lied to her continuously, leading her to believe that he is a humble soldier who only serves in the Regiment of the Count de Saxe. Nobody has specified that the Count’s first name is Maurice. Otherwise Adrienne might have put 2 and 2 together.
The mention of the Count decides Adrienne to accept the invitation to the party, even though she didn’t feel up to it initially. Now she has a plan to petition the Count on behalf of her boyfriend: “I am so anxious to see the Count de Saxe. I wish to ask a favor of him, to intercede with him for a young lieutenant whom I wish to make a captain.”
Abbé: We will place you next to the Count at supper, and before the dessert is brought in, your friend will be a Colonel!”
Quelle ironie délicieuse!
That Bit About The Key
Recall that every well-written play involves certain vital objects or props. “Chekhov’s Rifle”, so to speak. Important props in the Adrienne play include: The bouquet of violets; the casket containing poison; a diamond bracelet; and a key to a garden gate. The first three were introduced right up-front, in Act I. Here, as Act II closes, we are introduced to the third major object, the key.
When Adrienne accepts the invitation to the Prince’s supper, this where we learn that she lives very close to Villa Duclos, in fact their gardens face each other. (And all this time I thought that Adrienne lived in a modest little flat!) The Prince hands Adrienne a key to the backyard gate of Villa Duclos, she won’t even need a carriage to get there, all she has to do is walk a few steps from her own house, unlock the back gate, and she will be inside the grounds of Villa Duclos.
This business with the key to the gate was also a big deal in the opera libretto, and I confess I didn’t get that bit either. Probably just my own inattentiveness — the singing and the subtitles fly by so quickly…
Act II of the play ends with Adrienne forgiving Maurice in her mind and kissing the note that he wrote to her cancelling their date: “Till tomorrow, dearest Maurice! Maurice, my love! Ah! If it is only a dream, then let me dream. I am so happy!”
Pauvre Adrienne! This is Grand Tragedy! Never tempt fate by allowing yourself to feel happy. Despair is imminent, and then Death… [at least until I can figure out a way to fix the ending!]
[to be continued]