It promised to be an evening that opera fans hunger for and seldom get these days: a gut-churning verismo Italian opera sung by a cast prepared to savor every juicy tune and heated situation. Yes, conductor Eve Queler and her Opera Orchestra of New York were again spreading joy among the faithful in Carnegie Hall, this time with a centennial anniversary performance of Francesco Cilea’s Adriana Lecouvreur, a work invariably trashed by superior critics but adored by all true opera lovers.
The title role has long been coveted by sopranos of a certain age, from the sublime (Magda Olivero, the composer’s own favorite) to the improbable (Joan Sutherland). Opera Orchestra’s diva was Aprile Millo, whose attempts to adopt the grand manner of her legendary predecessors have had only fitful success over the years but who has survived long enough to become something of a cult figure. It’s been a while since Millo has had such a prominent New York showcase, and she was determined to make the most of it. Her voice sounded rested and confident as she struck all the studied poses appropriate for a Comédie Française actress poisoned by a jealous rival, and the crowd went wild.
Even so, this veteran Adriana enthusiast was not convinced. Millo’s utilitarian soprano has never had much individual color or profile, and her singing lacked expressive variety and depth. No doubt her efforts to preserve past vocal traditions are sincere, but the gestures seemed pasted-on rather than truly felt, fatal in an opera where a passionate belief in every melodramatic moment is crucial. And why Millo, a striking woman, would present herself, in this of all operas, looking like Shirley Booth as Hazel the TV maid dressed for her night out is beyond me.
No, the evening’s real vocal excitement came from other voices. Marcello Giordani is sounding more and more like the Italian tenor we’ve been waiting for, and his Maurizio was as ringing and ardently phrased as any I’ve heard in the role, including Franco Corelli. As the evil Princess of Bouillon, Dolora Zajick rattled the rafters to thrilling effect, and Anooshah Golesorkhi was a welcome calming presence as Adriana’s gentle mentor, Michonnet.
Francesco Cilea’s Adriana Lecouvreur
Opera Orchestra of New York at Carnegie Hall