Close this search box.
Natalie Aroyan soprano lead in Opera Australia Adriana Lecouvreur opera review and critique

opera australia presents adriana lecouvreur @ joan sutherland theatre

Giorgio Caoduro as Michonnet in Opera Australia’s 2023 production of Adriana Lecouvreur at the Sydney Opera House. Photo Credit: Keith Saunders
Natalie Aroyan as Adriana Lecouvreur in Opera Australia’s 2023 production of Adriana Lecouvreur at the Sydney Opera House. Photo Credit: Guy Davies
Carmen Topciu as The Principessa in Opera Australia’s 2023 production of Adriana Lecouvreur at the Sydney Opera House. Photo Credit: Keith Saunders

[usr 5]

Last night the audience settled in to the Opera House for an Australian premiere production of Adriana Lecouvreur composed by Francesco Cilèa. It’s a lesser known opera by a lesser known composer so the house was not busting at the seams as it often is on opening nights. The crowd was going to be difficult to warm as they had already heard lead soprano Ermonela Jaho was missing for tonight replaced by the understudy. Many were disappointed as they had booked tonight specifically based on the publicity buzz around Jaho. Would the understudy be good enough?

Their attitude changed within the first few bars of that understudy opening her mouth.  Award winning Sydney based soprano Natalie Aroyan blew them away with a powerful voice and naturally acted interpretation perfectly suited to the context. With just 2 weeks rehearsal and 5 hours notice on the day she performed as if she was completely familiar with the role and knew it back to front. There was no visible hesitation nor confusion. One would wonder why she wasn’t first pick for the role in the first place. She is an absolute star.

What can be said about the opera? The story is based around the real life famous actress Adriana Lecouvreur who lived in the early 1700s and was talent spotted as a rising star from a young age. She was touring with a troupe by the age of 14 and her reputation had grown enough to be invited to star in roles at Comédie-Française in Paris by the time she was 24.

Adriana shocked audiences with her courageous choices wearing historically accurate stage costumes, avoiding the stylised, over-the-top hand gestures of the day and applying a natural, truthful style of acting to her roles; all of which broke rules and expectations, rocketing her to fame. There were mentors, wards and lovers – sometimes all at once – and an untimely, mysterious death at the approximate age of 37 for which there is no evidence based explanation.

A play of the same name was published in 1849 by the very famous writing partnership of Ernest Legouvé and Eugène Scribe. They used what little is known of the original actress adding their own guess as to how she died. True to history she is loved by a young, fabulous Polish Count but the Count is also loved by the Duchess of Bouillon who is unhappily married. Her husband, the Duke, as a penchant for chemistry and owns a poison which can cause hallucinations and death. How very convenient when you need to get rid of a rival. Their play, in turn, inspired several operas and films including this opera by Cilèa.

Why was the play so popular? It’s what you would call a “meaty” role for a performer. The actress/singer gets to play a great diva who is young and beautiful, loved and adored yet driven to madness by the poison which finishes her off. Perfect opera material, of course. High drama flowing through a full gamut of emotions.

This new production comes to Australia courtesy of Teatro Comunale Di Bologna. The original and this version were both directed by Rosetta Cucchi who won Best Director at the International Opera Awards last year. Her choices in this production are memorable and certainly original. She places each of the four Acts in a different historical period:

  • 1730 (the real Adriana’s final year)
  • 1860 (the time of Verdi)
  • 1930 (featuring Isis wing dancer Loie Fuller) 
  • 1968 (the time of Jean-Luc Godard)

It is finally explained by disclosing in big letters on the back wall “Time is an invention for those incapable of love.” True indeed, the story is just as relevant in any timeframe.

(SPOILER ALERT) It was an odd choice to run the final dying scene with the tenor hidden off stage as if he was only a figment of Adriana’s imagination. He sings of his love for her, proposing marriage, whilst she only has Michonnet, her theatre friend, to hug. This is explained by Michonnet lying to Adriana saying he sent for Maurizio when in fact he threw the letter away. In earlier parts of the opera Adriana and Michonnet have lovely intimate conversations about their friendship and about being honest with each other so this new direction emphasises Michonnet was not honest with her in a number of ways. Based on this interpretation, after all the high flying adoration, there is no one who was loyal to her in the end.

The sets by Tiziano Santi and lighting by Daniele Naldi are gorgeous creating highly diverse colour schemes that carry the story through each period. What was a table in the Act I is now a part of the riser stage in Act IV. The painted backdrops, flies and props set the scene perfectly and stay firmly in the background supporting the music. Here at the Opera House we may have seen too many productions where the set overwhelms, and even hides, the singers. It is a relief to see priority given to the music and performers once again. High class!

Costumes by Claudia Pernigotti were perfectly matched to the rest of the production components. Colours and styling for soloists and chorus were fun and cohesive. Only one sticking point in wardrobe which the audience disliked was Adriana’s harem pants in Act I. Harem pants would have been a typical brave choice of the original Adriana but translucent pants are pushing it a bit far. Let’s hope that idea is altered to something more opaque for the remainder of the season.

It is unusual to have the Director attend to the revival production here in Australia but, even more delightful to have the full Italian production team on hand. They received plenty of appreciation from the audience at curtain call.

We were lucky to have a superb lineup of principal artists cast for the season, albeit very short on Australian talent. Principessa was played by Romanian mezzo Carmen Topciu who grabbed this role by the horns and gave a superb performance. Perhaps because it is the smaller role of the 4 main roles the audience were not screaming the house down for her which was rather unfair. She was just as much a standout with her technique, power and interpretation and deserved more adoration. Should you attend later in the season, make sure you throw her a few more “Brava”s after her arias.

The fabulous Count of Poland Maurizio was played by American tenor Michael Fabiano. This is his 4th opera for Opera Australia and each time he excels from his previous work becoming stronger and more articulate. The audience loved him.

The lovelorn stage manager Michonnet was played by Italian baritone Giorgio Caoduro who provided strong and accurate vocals. His role offers so much potential for dramatic interpretation and it would be lovely to see how this character develops throughout the season. Another curious point is that Michonnet is supposed to be much older than Adriana yet the character was not aged so he didn’t look much older than her.

It was a small cast of chorus, minor characters and dancers. The great Ballet in Act III became an Aerial Silk circus act. The opening act with minor characters is very tricky to navigate. When directed in Italian it is assumed the audience understand the words. Unfortunately for English speakers, trying to watch the many details on stage and keep an eye on the supertitles for a language translation means that much of the comedy got lost. Deserving special mention is The Abbé played by Australian Virgilio Marino providing a fun comedy character.

The Opera Australia Orchestra were their usual marvellous selves stretching out the romance and drama under the baton of talented young Italian conductor Leonardo Sini.

Summing up: The sets and lighting are clear and diverse, keeping your attention throughout the evening. The performers are superb and international quality. If you are lucky enough to hear Natalie Aroyan in this role you will realise you are witnessing a rising star, much like the original actress.

The music of Ciléa is heavenly from overture to finale. It is easy on the ear as much as any of the most popular operas in the world today. If you are considering visiting the opera or taking someone who doesn’t have a lot of opera experience, Adriana Lecouvreur is highly recommended.

Opening night took place at the Joan Sutherland Theatre, Sydney Opera House on 20 February 2023.

See all available dates for Adriana Lecouvreur:

More about soprano Natalie Aroyan

Examples of the work of Director Rosetta Cucchi

Featured image : Natalie Aroyan as Adriana Lecouvreur in Opera Australia’s 2023 production of Adriana Lecouvreur at the Sydney Opera House. Photo Credit: Keith Saunders


Subscribe to our Bi-Weekly Newstetter

Sign up for our bi-weekly newsletter to receive updates and stay informed about art and cultural events around Sydney. – it’s free!

Want More?

Get exclusive access to free giveaways and double passes to cinema and theatre events across Sydney. 

Scroll to Top