Cilea, Francesco


Cilea, Francesco

Adriana Lecouvreur (with Italian libretto)

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Francesco Cilea – Adriana Lecouvreur

(b. Palmi, 23. July 1866 – d. Varazze, 20. November 1950 )


Preface (by Joseph Morgan, 2018)

A jilted lover, a bracelet and a poisoned clutch of dead violets, these are the devices that drive the plot of Francesco Cilea’s most, and only, famous opera, Adriana Lecouvreur (premiered 1902). Setting a libretto by Arturo Colautti, which is based on a play by Eugène Scribe and Ernest Legouvé, the opera tells a largely fictional story about characters who were quite real, including the title character herself, the French actress Adriana Lecouvreur (1692-1730) who was known for her natural acting style and the mysterious circumstances surrounding her death. In the style of the late romantic, early modern verismo, this four-act opera has proven a strong vehicle for an aging soprano with a strong 18th Century atmosphere, a mixture of comedy and tragedy and the sympathetic nature of the title character. If there is a weak point to this opera, it most assuredly resides within the work’s convoluted plot.

Francesco Cilea was born in Palmi, Italy on July 23 1866. He was first expected to follow in his father’s footsteps in the study of law, but showed an early musical aptitude and Francesco Florimo, famous friend of Bellini, acquired admission for him in the conservatory at Naples. A strong graduation project performed in Florence, the opera La Tilda, garnered for him a performance in Vienna where Hanslick took notice. He spent the next three years on his next opera, L’arlesiana which found it’s premiere in Milan in 1900 and helped to launch Enrico Caruso’s name internationally.

Meanwhile, in Italy the verismo movement was reaching it’s peak. The movement, which features not the conflict between the Gods and the aristocratic class, as Opera seria, nor does it represent the conflict between the peasants and the aristocrats, as Opera buffa, but instead a conflict between the Gods, be it fate, religion or rite, and the peasant who are slowly ground into the dirt. It is, by definition, a tragic genre, and given the time in which he composed, it is no surprise that, as a member of the giovane schola in Italy, Cilea’s greatest work would be in this style.
The first act of Adriana Lacouvreur, which occurs in the “The foyer of the Comédie Française” features the Shakespearean “play within a play” device, opening during a performance of Corneille’s Bajazet with Adriana’s rival, Mlle Duclos, onstage. Duclos’s lover, the Prince of Bouillon, soon appears with the Abbé of Chazeuil, and they lend the production high praise. Adriana enters, singing a reminiscence theme that will follow her throughout the opera. Michonnet, one of her courters who has recently come into an inheritance, finds himself alone with her and prepares to propose to her when she reveals her affections are for one Count of Saxony. The Count appears, but disguised as a man named Maurizio and in an arioso he reveals his love for Adriana. A love duet develops, after which Adriana gives Maurizio a small bouquet of violets and leaves to go on stage, having agreed to meet him after the performance.


Read full preface > HERE

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