And now it is time to end this series! To summarize: I loved the Met Live in HD production of “Adriana Lecouvreur” starring Anna Netrebko in the title role. Also starring Piotr Beczała as the dashing Count Maurice de Saxe, and Anita Rachvelishvili as the evil Princess de Bouillon. The singers were wonderful, the music is absolutely gorgeous, and the sets were ravishing.
I did have some issues with the complicated plot, and certain lapses in the libretto. Like that crucial climactic “dark-room” scene in somebody’s villa. I was terribly confused while watching. Whose villa were they in? The Prince’s? And if so, then why was the Princess so worried about being compromised? Oh, I’m sure some of this was explained in passing in the “recitative” (which I put in quotes because verismo opera is not technically supposed to have recitative). Maybe it’s just me, because I like to have my story plots crystal clear and understandable — like computer code! And this is one of the reasons why I like Wagnerian opera — because the characters will spend hours, if needed, laying out the backstory and exposition. Italian opera — not so much, it all goes by so quickly, and one is still going “duh” at the end…
For this reason I returned to the original source material, the play. And a miracle happened: Reading this brilliant play has reawakened an old love in me — my juvenile love for French literature! Now I intend to go back and read this play again, in the original French (if I can find a good copy), and then I will keep on going and read the major plays of Racine and Molière. That is my New Year’s Resolution.
Meanwhile, Dear Readers, I have brought you far enough along, in my plot recap, that you could go confidently to the opera and watch this production with complete understanding of the major characters and props: The poison, the violets, the key to the garden gate… Most of all, I think you “get” the brilliant device of having everything center around the (unseen) character of Mademoiselle Duclos. She is the invisible gluon which keeps all these quarks together! Thus, you can read the rest of the play on your own, which I leave for you as a homework exercise.
The Happy Ending
As I mentioned before, the only difference between a Tragedy and a Comedy is the ending. If somebody dies at the end, then it’s a tragedy. Well, to be more specific, if a good person dies, then it’s a tragedy. If a bad person dies, you are free to laugh your head off. The ancient Greeks let their audiences know what to expect by switching the smiley-frowney masks around. Similarly, the giants of French literature specified right in the title of their plays: “A Tragedy in Five Acts…” or “A Comedy in Three Acts…” That way you knew whether or not you had to take a box of kleenex to the theater with you.
I personally believe that there is too much Tragedy in this world already. That is why I have made it my crusade to “fix” these sad operas by contriving a happy ending. In the case of “Adriana”, the job is so simple and so obvious that the story practically writes itself.
Recall that the Prince of Bouillon is an amateur scientist. He was contracted by the French police to analyze a powerful poison, a nerve agent which acts on contact with the skin. Very early in Act I he was showing off this casket of poison to his wife and other ladies. He warned them very strictly never to go near it nor touch it…
Well, obviously the Princess of Bouillon ignored that warning. Either she is simply careless, or, in her desperation to kill Adrienne, she just let caution fly to the winds. Oh, to be sure, she did take some precautions when handling the poison. Like she wore gloves. But those kind of ladies gloves without fingertips. Hence, a few molecules of the poison penetrated her skin. Within seconds she was lying on the floor of her villa, inert. With Adrienne’s bouquet of violets clutched in her cold, dead hands.
On arriving home and finding his wife in this state, the Prince immediately (1) breathes a sigh of relief, and (2) summons the crack Poison Control Team from Porton Downs, Salisbury, England. They arrive very quickly to clean up the mess, and soon concoct a cover story blaming the Russians.
In the ensuing criminal investigation, Maurice and the Prince determine, together, that it would behoove the Count of Saxony to leave France, at least until things cool down. They put out a false flag that Adrienne has died (1730) mysteriously. Adrienne is then given a new identity as a soldier’s wife. She departs from France along with Maurice. In her new identity, she works for the Saxon army and becomes a sort of a fille du régiment type of girl. [insert plug for the next Met opera I plan to review, in March!]
These two delightful young people are now free to consummate their passion. Oh, don’t get too excited, though, Maurice cannot actually marry Adrienne, since she is a commoner and he is a Count. But that’s okay. She is happy to just be his beloved companion and mascot of his Courland Regiment.
In a series of ripping adventures, the two young lovers fight to take back Courland from their arch-enemy, Prince Menshikov. In one of their adventures, Menshikov kidnaps Adrienne and forces her to organize his private theater, using serfs as actors and acrobats. Maurice rescues his girl, and a thrilling swordfight ensues — but nobody gets hurt! “Until we meet again!” the villain Menshikov sneers at the couple, as they escape on horseback…