It was never in doubt, really: an Anna Netrebko role début in a première of a new production made last night’s Adriana Lecouvreur at the Mariinsky II the hottest ticket in town, the latest in Netrebko’s progression towards weightier, full-voiced roles. And Netrebko did not disappoint: her acting has continued to improve over the years, and her voice now has so much depth and richness – while still maintaining purity on the high notes – that listening to every moment of her singing is a thrill.

Anna Netrebko (Adriana)
© Valentin Baranovsky | State Academic Mariinsky Theatre

Having said which, as Netrebko herself would be the first to admit, the role of Adriana is a work in progress at this point, rather than the finished article. Adriana’s first entrance is a short declamation, after which she goes straight into the big aria “lo son l'umile ancella”. Netrebko’s entry wasn’t as confident as one might have expected: even the top singers, apparently, can have nerves. The reprise of the aria, later in the opera, was a knockout. Cilea is unkind to his female singers: the Princesse de Bouillon is also required to come on stage and hit full throttle in her first four words with the recitative “Accerba voluttà, dolce tortura”. Ekaterina Semenchuk didn’t get her pedal to the metal until somewhat later, but she certainly got there: her Act 2 duet with Yusif Eyvazov’s Maurizio was superb, the powerful passions of the plot boiling up nicely by that point.

Eyvazov’s rather steely tenor is not a timbre that naturally appeals to me – generally, I’ll go for something a bit more open and rounded – but I can’t fault his singing and his feel for this repertoire: he knows how to build a swell into a phrase and indeed across a whole scene, to extract the big thrills of listening to a tenor pushed to his limits but not past them. Alexei Markov was a gentle, engaging Michonnet: it’s the part that gets some of the best one liners, and Markov delivered “Noi siam povera gente”, his unheeded injunction to Adriana not to meddle with the affairs of the great, with real poignance.

Anna Netrebko (Adriana), Yusif Eyvasov (Maurizio)
© Valentin Baranovsky | State Academic Mariinsky Theatre

The double act of Vladimir Feliauer (the Prince de Bouillon) and Alexander Mikhailov (the Abbé de Chazeuil) provide good support, stronger in the more dramatic parts than in the buffo sequences.

Isabelle Patriot-Pieri’s new production is an unusual hybrid of traditional and innovative, with several quirks. After a video projection of two masked men dumping a body and of Voltaire’s poem about Adrienne Lecouvreur (who was a friend of his), the spirit of Voltaire haunts the stage, occasionally interfering with proceedings. We’re in period costumes, with attractive designs by Christian Gasc and some glorious flights of fancy for the Act 3 party scene: green-clad flunkeys with extraordinary things growing out of their hats and a marvellous 12-person pantomime crocodile, complete with snapping jaws. Patriot-Pieri’s sets are all pleasant to look at, although some work much better than others. In Act 2 – when Adriana helps the Princesse de Bouillon to escape – the wall of the Princess’s hiding place rotates neatly to separate the two women from each other and allow us to see the escape route. Early in the act, we have learned that the two masked men in the video are the ones who have been following Maurizio, while in the prelude to Act 4, they return to their video screen so that we see them preparing the poisoned violets to send to Adriana, thus illuminating a particularly obscure bit of the plot. On the debit side, the Act 1 set fails to establish the fact the boundary between backstage and front-of-house at the theatre, and in Act 3, Partiot-Pieri makes the strange choice of hiding the ballet from us altogether, preferring to give us a dumb-show of the Prince, the Abbé and Maurizio stepping out of the theatre, apparently for cigarette breaks. Acting performances are moderate – well beyond “stand and deliver”, but some way short of verismo method acting.

Ekaterina Semenchuk, Vladimir Feliauer, Anna Netrebko, Alexei Markov
© Valentin Baranovsky | State Academic Mariinsky Theatre

The Mariinsky orchestra are on luscious form, aided by some noticeably slow tempi from Valery Gergiev, who gives them plenty of space to express the ebb and flow of Cilea’s music, at the expense of occasionally let things drag somewhat in the more vivacious passages.

In sum, a production that hasn’t quite hit the ground running, but shows plenty of promise for the future, with a quartet of principal singers that you’d be more than happy to see any day of the week. And even on a slightly nervy first night, hearing Netrebko at this point in her career remains a special treat.


David's press trip was sponsored by the Mariinsky.