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. Where we left off, it is the beginning of Act III (in the play, Act II in the opera). Princess Boiling-with-Anger is waiting impatiently for her lover, Maurice, to show up at their designated trysting-place. Maurice is one hour late — off with his head! But then suddenly he appears, all filled with excuses…
The Princess tells Maurice that she has been busy about his business, spent the day at Versailles, lobbying the Queen to lobby the Cardinal. “The Secretary of State gives you permission to raise the two regiments at your own expense.”
Princess: “The Russian Ambassador has set the police on your track. (…) While you are a prisoner, the Russians could do what they liked in Courland.”
Egads! Must prevent those perfidious Russians. By a natural segue from Russians to Romance, Maurice finally starts to confess to the Princess that he is love with another woman. He reminds her, that was the deal from the beginning: both were free, either could break it off whenever they chose. (ha ha, what a fool!)
Princess: “Free to betray me!” and goes on to start issuing blood-curdling threats which are only interrupted by the sound of an oncoming carriage. [hoof sounds] Both Maurice and the Princess are surprised; remember, they don’t know the Prince’s devious plot to catch Maurice in flagrante delicto with Mademoiselle Duclos by flooding the house with supper guests. Also recall that the Prince is completely unaware that his wife has a lover. He is allowed to have a mistress (=Duclos), but his wife is not allowed to have a lover, those are the rules of high society. If he knew, if anybody knew, then her reputation would be ruined forever. She would probably have to go off and join a nunnery, or something like that.
When the Princess sees that her husband is approaching the front door, she panics: “I am lost! My reputation will be ruined!” She rushes to hide in a small boudoir.
The Prince and Abbé enter and confront Maurice: “Aha, we have caught you, Count! I saw the lady! I saw her!”
Maurice: “You jest.”
Prince: “Not at all. I caught sight of a flowing robe just as it slipped through the door. Saxony attacking France!” The Prince is so jovial, that a comic misunderstanding ensues. Maurice thinks the Prince is talking about his wife and knows about the affair. He assumes that they must now go outside to fight a duel, with the Abbé as their witness. The Abbé clarifies that no duel is necessary, everything is cool, Maurice can celebrate his conquest in front of the supper guests. Maurice is increasingly confused — these French people, who can ever understand their crazy culture! And then suddenly, from the dialogue, he realizes they are talking about Duclos. Duh! So he decides to play along.
The Prince informs Maurice that the rest of the supper guests will be arriving soon; that Maurice will be the star guest of the evening; and that the theme of the supper will be to celebrate his conquest of Duclos. Okay, two problems here: (1) Duclos is not present, she is never present; the Princess even told Maurice that Duclos knows better than to show up in her own villa when it has been reserved for others; and (2) The Prince has brought a “very special guest” to meet Maurice, who is none other than the famous actress Adrienne Lecouvreur! Adrienne is accompanied by her chaperone, Michonnet.
Oh dear, now Maurice will be caught out in all his lies. He has been lying to Adrienne all along, now she will learn his true identity, and surely she will be annoyed with him!
It is a classic moment of crisis. The Prince introduces Maurice to Adrienne and the two lovers come face to face.
Adrienne: “The Count de Saxe! It is not possible.”
Prince: “What’s the matter?”
Adrienne: “Only a surprise, quite natural. I thought I did not know the Count de Saxe. But I do know him, quite well.”
Abbé: “By sight?”
Adrienne: “Oh no, I have already spoken to him.”
Adrienne: “At the ball, at the opera.”
Prince: “In disguise?”
Adrienne: “Yes. The Count de Saxe seems to like disguises.”
Next the Prince announces that he is going to lock all the doors to the villa, so that nobody may enter or leave before daybreak. Poor Michonnet! He needed to get back to the theater to deal with a crisis threatening tomorrow’s show. Poor Princess! She is going to have to stay locked up in that tiny room while everybody else is gorging themselves on the fine food…
Meanwhile, left alone to chat, Maurice and Adrienne start to put the pieces back together of their relationship. Adrienne still loves him, and needs to understand why he had to lie to her: “Were they not speaking of some new enterprise, of some fresh campaign against Russia — of the conquest of the Duchy of Courland, which you were about to undertake unaided? I can well understand that when such vast interests are at stake, the love of a poor girl like myself must stand sorely in your way.”
They are soon re-declaring their passionate love for each other. For the sake of France’s glory, Adrienne will forgive Maurice his little deception. The only thing she would not forgive, is if she were to find out that he was sleeping with another woman…
[to be continued]