This is the third time I’ve reviewed Cilea’s Adriana Lecouvreur, and there’s a pattern: no matter how starrily cast the two main roles are, the baritone singing the stage manager Michonnet always steals the show. I no longer think this is chance accident. More likely, it’s because the role has such appeal: here is a good, faithful man whose tragedy is that he is both ageing and devoid of sex appeal.

Gerald Finley as Michonnet in <i>Adriana Lecouvreur</i> © Catherine Ashmore | ROH
Gerald Finley as Michonnet in Adriana Lecouvreur
© Catherine Ashmore | ROH
At Covent Garden last night, Gerard Finley was a different Michonnet from others I’ve seen – more expansive, less of a character actor – but the beauty of his velvet timbre and his lieder singer’s attention to the nuance of the text made him intensely watchable. Each time he portrayed one of the scenes where Michonnet finds himself incapable of declaring his true love to Adriana, I felt the man's wrenching melancholy; his unheeded advice to Adriana not to meddle in the affairs of the great was heartbreaking.

Ksenia Dudnikova (Princess de Bouillon) and Brian Jagde (Maurizio) © Catherine Ashmore | ROH
Ksenia Dudnikova (Princess de Bouillon) and Brian Jagde (Maurizio)
© Catherine Ashmore | ROH
Tenor voices are a matter of taste, and I have to admit that in this kind of repertoire, I prefer a darker, more rounded timbre to Brian Jagde’s bright, clear tones. But Jagde tackled the role of the dashing Maurizio with enthusiasm and improved steadily through the evening, at his best in the boisterous relation of his war heroics, “Il russo Mèncikoff”. On the softer side, he was effective in the tenderness of the closing duets as Adriana dies of poison.

I doubt that I’m ever going to see a more confident Covent Garden début than that of Ksenia Dudnikova as the Princesse de Bouillon (who is in fact the poisoner). It’s not a nuanced role – the requirement for characterisation is limited to “spiteful, vengeful, vicious” – but it needs a mezzo with presence and authority, and Dudnikova certainly provided that. She put me in mind of hearing Liudmyla Monastyrska’s Covent Garden début: this is a huge voice that was perfectly in tune and shook the rafters.

Angela Gheorghiu as Adriana Lecouvreur © Catherine Ashmore | ROH
Angela Gheorghiu as Adriana Lecouvreur
© Catherine Ashmore | ROH
The title role is the archetypal diva’s part: this is a classical actress whose pure talent entrances crowned heads in defiance of her social status (which, in ancien régime France, would have been barely up a notch from “prostitute”). Angela Gheorghiu brings a lot to the title role: theatricality, looks, commitment to the part, beautiful timbre and phrasing. But, these days at least, Gheorghiu lacks the sheer heft to be a commanding vocal presence: when Adriana comes to do her stuff on the stage-within-a-stage, I want to be bowled over by her, not just politely appreciative – and that didn’t happen. Moreover, Gheorghiu’s intonation was far from solid: vibrato was being used to mask high notes not being hit in the middle and having to be reached for.

As ever at Covent Garden, supporting roles were strongly cast, most notably Bálint Szabó’s powerful bass as the Prince. Under Daniel Oren, the Royal Opera Orchestra turned in a solid performance – lacking, perhaps, in the last degree of Puccini-esque sweep and lustrous string timbre, but well paced and sprightly.

© Catherine Ashmore | ROH
© Catherine Ashmore | ROH
Adriana Lecouvreur is labelled a verismo opera, at least if you ignore the famously improbable murder weapon of a bunch of violets and the even more improbable idea of a future king of the period proposing marriage to an actress. David McVicar’s production is of the full lavish period-accurate variety and I thoroughly enjoy it, from the bust of Molière which accompanies proceedings to set designer Charles Edwards’ detailed reconstruction of the stage mechanisms of a baroque theatre, to the impressive rendering of the theatre in the Prince’s palace (scene of Adriana’s catfight with the Princesse de Bouillon that provides the motive for murder). Brigitte Reiffenstuel’s costumes are baroque eye candy, and revival director Justin Way does a good job of moving the principals, assorted thespians and liveried servants around the stage. I just have two cavils with the staging:  Andrew George and Adam Pudney’s ballet choreography seemed to be uncertain whether it was portraying classical ballet or sending it up, and the complexity of the scenery requires a long scene change after Act I and then two intervals, making a normal length opera into a fairly long evening.

This production of Adriana Lecouvreur isn't the star vehicle that I'm sure some would like, but it’s a solid, watchable, well put together and well performed production of an opera I love.