Adriana Lecouvreur
  • Francesco Cilea. Opera in four acts. 1902.
  • Libretto by Arturo Colautti, after the play Adrienne Lecouvreur by Eugène Scribe and Ernest Legouvé.
  • First performance at the Teatro Lirico, Milan, on 6th November 1902.
Adriana Lecouvreur, of the Comédie-Française soprano
Maurizio, Count of Saxony tenor
Prince de Bouillon bass
Princesse de Bouillon mezzo-soprano
Abbé de Chazeuil tenor
Michonnet, stage-director at the Comédie-Française baritone
Quinault bass
Poisson tenor
Mlle Jouvenot soprano
Mlle Dangeville mezzo-soprano

The year is 1730, the place Paris, the scene the foyer of the Comédie-Française, where Michonnet is busily engaged. He loves Adriana, but does not declare himself, since she tells him she has a lover, an unknown admirer. The Prince de Bouillon, a patron of the theatre, has found a letter to Maurizio that they think is from the Prince’s mistress, the actress Duclos, making an assignation that night at her house. The Prince resolves to arrange a party at the house, hoping to surprise the guilty pair. The letter was in fact written by the Princesse de Bouillon, who opens the second act, set at the villa of La Duclos. Here she is joined by Maurizio, her former lover, who is aware of what is happening. The Prince and his friend the Abbé arrive, and the Princess hides, leaving Maurizio to deal with a situation that is complicated by the arrival of Adriana, whose true lover he is, although she did not realise his identity. The opera continues with a story that centres on the rivalry of Adriana and the Princesse de Bouillon, but ends in tragedy when a bunch of violets that Adriana had once given to Maurizio and that he had been compelled, diplomatically, to give to the Princess, is returned to Adriana. The flowers have been poisoned by the Princess, and in the last act, as Maurizio declares his true love for Adriana, she dies.

Francesco Cilea’s opera is an example of Italian realism, verismo, although set in the elegance of earlier 18th-century Paris. It mixes elements of comic intrigue and tragedy, the last predominating in the moving ending. The original production had Caruso in the part of Maurizio and Angelica Pandolfini as Adriana. Adriana’s Io son l’umile ancella (I am the humble handmaid) at her entrance and her later Poveri fiori (Poor flowers), when she thinks Maurizio has returned the flowers to her, may be heard in concert repertoire, as may the tenor La dolcissima effigie sorridente (The sweetest smiling representation), sung by Maurizio in the first act.