NEW YORK (AP) — Cilea's "Adriana Lecouvreur" is an opera that needs a diva of the first magnitude to make it worth reviving. With her own career seemingly as tempestuous these days as that of the title character's, Angela Gheorghiu definitely fills the bill.
And the Romanian soprano did not disappoint her many fans at Carnegie Hall on Tuesday night, offering prima donna glamour and excitement to spare — and some sumptuous, if uneven, vocalism as well.
The occasion, Gheorghiu's only scheduled New York appearance of the season, was a concert performance of the 1902 verismo melodrama presented by the Opera Orchestra of New York. Her impressive co-stars were German tenor Jonas Kaufmann, Georgian mezzo-soprano Anita Rachvelishvili and Italian baritone Ambrogio Maestri.
The opera, loosely based on the life of a French actress of the early 18th century, has a ludicrously tangled plot involving secret doors, mistaken identities and a poisoned nosegay of violets that eventually finishes off the heroine.
But it offers a juicy role for a singer who can wrap her voice around two luscious arias and several duets and who, at a climactic moment in Act 3, can declaim with dramatic flair a speech from Racine's "Phedre."
Gheorghiu had success performing "Adriana" in concert in Berlin and in a staged production at London's Royal Opera House last year. But it's not an ideal role for her at this point in her career of more than 20 years.
Much of it lies in the lower and middle register, where Gheorghiu's voice is thinning out dangerously. Even with conductor Alberto Veronesi keeping the orchestral accompaniment as soft as possible, whole stretches of her singing were all but inaudible.
However, the glory of her voice remains intact where it has always been strongest: in her gorgeous, melting high notes and her ability to shape long phrases with uncommon expressiveness.
Kaufmann, in the role of Adriana's lover, Maurizio, was superb, singing with passion, tenderness and ringing high notes.
As Adriana's jealous rival, the Principessa di Bouillon, Rachvelishvili was frustratingly uneven. She has the blazing power and gutsy chest notes the part requires, but above the staff she consistently sang slightly flat.
Maestri was excellent as Michonnet, the aging stage manager who is hopelessly in love with Adriana. He created a sympathetic, three-dimensional character, his baritone powerful but nuanced.
If all had gone as planned a year ago, Gheorghiu would now be spending her days alongside Kaufmann in rehearsals for a new production of Gounod's "Faust" at the Metropolitan Opera.
But the soprano — who has developed an unfortunate reputation for canceling engagements — announced last spring that she was withdrawing because of "artistic differences" with the director. Her career has also been complicated by her on-again, off-again marriage to tenor Roberto Alagna, who for years partnered her in many of their appearances.
Gheorghiu may never have been quite "the most glamorous and gifted opera singer of our time," as her biographical note in the program claims. But she remains a formidable artist whose rare talents continue to provide great pleasure.