Never mind the plot

31 July 2014 | by Robert Thicknesse

Adriana Lecouvreur Opera Holland Park, London

Even among an operatic public armour-plated against the laughable, the final moments of Francesco Cilea’s 1902 opera can provoke outraged guffaws: the heroine pegs out not as a result of disease, suicide or even fatally impugned honour – no: she takes a whiff of a poisoned bunch of flowers … sniffs it, snuffs it. I know, I know. But the strength of the work is that it surmounts this rubbish with some of the most properly sensitive music written by any Italian after Verdi.The eighteenth-century actress Adrienne Lecouvreur, doyenne of the French stage, had a vividly romantic life and legendary (and let’s hope apocryphal) death that was grist to the mill of Eugène Scribe, originator of the dreaded “well-made play”. Composers loved these sensational

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