Continuing with my review of the Metropolitan Live in HD production of Francesco Cilea’s Adriana Lecouvreur! Recapping plot with the assistance of this English translation of the original French play. We just finished working through Act II of the play, which corresponds to Act I of the opera (since the opera libretto skipped a lot of stuff). We have seen that the complicated and cleverly intricate story line of the play does not really suit itself to the simplifications required by Grand Opera. Grand Opera tends to boil stories down to the most dramatic highlights and emotional catharses. Comic operettas (such as Fledermaus or The Merry Widow) with their quick and witty patter songs, are more suitable to this type of material, especially when dealing with high-society highjinks, amorous liaisons, secret trysts, and that sort of thing.
Comedy Versus Tragedy
In fact, as we have seen, the play Adrienne bears a lot of comic marks, and a good deal of humor. Sometimes the only thing distinguishing a comedy from a tragedy is the ending. And indeed, recall that Adrienne herself works as an actress at a theater called the Comédie-Française. But she typically performs hair-whitening tragic roles such as Roxane and Phèdre.
The dual concepts of Comedy and Tragedy were invented, of course, by the ancient Greeks. Per wiki: The word “comedy” is derived from the Classical Greek κωμῳδία (kōmōidía), which is a compound either of κῶμος (kômos) “revel”, or κώμη (kṓmē) “village”, on the one hand; and ᾠδή (ōidḗ) “singing” on the other; it is possible that κῶμος itself is derived from κώμη, and originally meant a village revel.
The word for singing (ᾠδή) is, of course, the source of the English word ode, as in “Ode to Joy”, and indicates that the early Greek comic plays were probably musicals.
The Greek word for “tragedy” was also a compound involving ode: tragos (“goat”) plus ode (“song”). “Trago-oide” = “Goat-song”, in other words. The connection may be via satyric drama, from which tragedy later developed, in which actors or singers were dressed in goatskins to represent satyrs. But many other theories have been made (including “singer who competes for a goat as a prize”), and even the “goat” connection is at times questioned… If the “goat” etymology is correct, though, then this is still another indication of the essential “one-ness” of the two modes. Since in our current day, we also use the word “satirical” as a type of humor.
Since both Comedy and Tragedy involve musical dramas, and both with many humorous elements, really the only difference is in the ending. If somebody dies at the end, then it’s a tragedy. Sometimes one and the same story can turn on a dime. Like Schrödinger’s cat, we don’t know until the very last second which it will be. For example, in my previous opera blogpost reviewing La Fanciulla, I shared with my readers how I had never seen this opera before, didn’t know the story, and avoided all spoilers, including the program synopsis. It was that very last scene in the opera that decided the matter: Again, like Schrödinger’s favorite pussy, Sheriff Rance either shoots, or does not shoot, Jonas Kaufmann at the end. The Sheriff relents, Jonas is saved, and the Quantum of the Opera ducks into the box labelled “Comedy” – whew!
Act III: The Princess And the Key
As Act III (of the play) opens, we find the Princess of Bouillon waiting alone in the Grange Batelière, which I like to call Villa Duclos. Why is the Princess there? She isn’t supposed to be there. Duclos is supposed to be there, because her lover, the Prince, bought her this villa as their love nest. The Prince is supposed to be there, because (a) he owns the place, (b) the title is in name, and (c) Duclos is his mistress. Maurice is supposed to be there, because the Princess arranged for her boy-toy to have a safe room there tonight, in the villa of her husband’s mistress. Even Adrienne is supposed to be there tonight, because the Prince and the Abbé invited her (and 100 other guests from the theater) over for supper. In fact, everybody in the world except the Princess, is supposed to be there!
Okay, I take it back, Princess Barracuda was supposed to be there. In fact, she was supposed to be there precisely at 10:00 PM to tryst with Maurice. Flashback to the scene in Act I where she set this up: “The Prince has bought for Duclos a charming villa (…), it is at my disposal and there only will I see you.” She didn’t specify the time, but left that to be arranged later: “The appointments will be made by Mademoiselle Duclos. She will write to you, not I.”
And indeed Duclos (behind the scenes) communicated with Maurice and gave him the time: 10:00 PM on the dot, and not one minute later! And yet an hour has passed since that appointed time, and little does the Princess know, that her love-nest is about to be swarmed by a hundred hungry supper guests!
By the way, for this crowd of aristos, “supper” means something like midnight, after they come home from watching a five-act play that goes on forever. They don’t care how late it is, these parasites don’t have to go to work the next day. And they still have roughly 60 years before the Revolution that will chop off all their pretty heads!
The Princess is so agitated that she starts talking to herself like a schizo: “Duclos sent me word that Maurice had received her note; that he was in a box at the theater – alone.” The Princess suspects that Maurice is in love with somebody other than herself (he is; it’s Adrienne), and is determined to find out whom. (Probably so she can poison her rival.) The clock strikes 11:00 and the Princess is outraged that Maurice is an hour late. Back in the glory days when he still loved her, he was always early for their booty-calls. “I hurried hither to serve you,” she mutters angrily, and you allow me time to reflect, that I could also ruin you, if I chose to do so. You are more than ungrateful, you are foolish.”
True, Maurice was foolish to ever hook up with such a flaming b*****ch.
And that moment, the fool himself arrives, huffing and puffing and late for his rendezvous…
[to be continued]