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Cilea: Adriana Lecouvreur
Francesco Cilea, Mário Rossi, San Carlo Theater Orchestra (Naples)
Cilea: Adriana Lecouvreur
Genre: Classical
  •  Track Listings (17) - Disc #1
  •  Track Listings (15) - Disc #2

The masterpiece of composer Francesco Cilea, "Adriana Lecouvreur" premiered in 1902 with Caruso in the tenor lead. It has remained a standard in Italy, though it is less famous abroad. This is one of its best recordings ev...  more »


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The masterpiece of composer Francesco Cilea, "Adriana Lecouvreur" premiered in 1902 with Caruso in the tenor lead. It has remained a standard in Italy, though it is less famous abroad. This is one of its best recordings ever, with the great singing actress Magda Olivero literally living the title role, and a fabulous supporting cast headed by Franco Corelli. Live performance, Naples, November 28, 1959.

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CD Reviews

Olivero's Compelling Adriana
Jeffrey Lipscomb | Sacramento, CA United States | 05/17/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Francesco Cilea (1866-1950), like his fellow verismo opera composers Mascagni (Cavalleria Rusticana), Leoncavallo (I Pagliacci), and Giordano (Andrea Chenier), is chiefly remembered for just a single work. In Cilea's case, that work is "Adriana Lecouvreur" (1901-02). But unlike those other composers' operas, Cilea's Adriana really stands or falls on the performance of the soprano. That challenge is met with great success here: Magda Olivero's assumption of the title role is a memorable triumph of interpretation. Her voice is by no means perfect, but her portrayal is far more involving than anybody else's on record. I don't listen to opera as much as I once did, but when I'm in the mood to hear a soprano really command a role, Olivero is one of the first artists who springs to mind (the quite different Leyla Gencer is another).

Olivero was one of the only soprano stars in the Italian verismo opera firmament who didn't come from a peasant background (her father was a judge). Perhaps I'm biased, but there is something about her singing that's more aristocratic than what one hears from, say, Tebaldi, Scotto or Callas. Olivero retired early from the operatic stage (thus avoiding the sad fate of many sopranos who suffered neglect in the midst of the Callas-Tebaldi wars). But in 1951, she was persuaded by Cilea (who regarded her as his only famous opera's finest exponent) to return to the stage in Adriana, which she continued to perform for decades (her last performance was at age 83!). Talk about vocal longevity!

I saw Olivero perform just once, in the early 1970's at Newark, New Jersey, and the opera was, of course, Adriana. Never before or since have I witnessed a soprano "live" who so totally identified with the role she was singing. Sadly, she never made a studio recording of the complete opera. But fortunately, this CD set preserves a great "live" 1959 Naples performance conducted by Mario Rossi. To my ears, this is the opera's definitive recording. Olivero is magnificent throughout, and her colleagues are all in great voice (Corelli, Bastianini, and Simionato). Rossi's conducting isn't exactly subtle, but then this isn't exactly a subtle work. This CD transfer is definitely superior to my old pirate LP set on the MRF label. The sound is variable but adequate. There's lots of audience participation here (they go virtually berserk more than once), and it really adds a lot to the sense of occasion that is usually lacking in a studio recording. Corelli is his usual hammy self (but what a voice!), Bastianini sings with far greater warmth than in his disappointing Germont with Callas (the famous but poorly recorded Traviata at La Scala with Giulini), and Simionato belts out her villainess role with total conviction. All in all, this is one of the most entertaining accounts of ANY opera ever recorded.

A broader sample of Olivero's talents (Puccini, Cilea, Boito, Charpentier, etc.) can be heard on a Preiser CD, which has studio recordings made 1938-1953, when her voice was at its freshest. In 1938 her "Poveri fiori" from Adriana was even better sung than it is here - the final crescendo is simply staggering - but somehow it isn't quite as moving as in this performance 21 years later before a live audience.

A truly remarkable artist, whose singing remains a constant source of listening pleasure.

Highly recommended."
The legendary interpretation of the composer's favourite sop
Gustavo Demarco | Buenos Aires | 01/12/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)

"Magda Olivero was Cilea's favourite soprano for the title role of this opera, and this recording is probably the best extant proof of his choice. Although her singning technique was not exceptional (in fact, she has been surpassed by Caballé), the colour of her voice and the distinction of her interpretation are unique and it is difficult to appreciate other sopranos as Adriana after you have listened to Olivero. It seems hard to believe today that a live recording could include such an exceptional cast. Franco Corelli possessed one of the most beautiful tenor voices of the 50s and 60s, and although many critics object his singing technique, he composes an excellent Maurizio. By the time of this recording (1959)he was at his best. Giulietta Simonatto was not only an outstanding singer, but her interpretation of the jealous and revengeful princess of Bouillon is also a reference. So is Bastianini's Michonnet. The quality of the sound is really good for a live recording. This recording of Adriana Lecouvreur is highly recommended as a fist choice, except to those who do not appreciate historical recordings.

A truly legendary operatic performance
cherubino | Houston, Texas United States | 10/11/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)

"This is one of those operatic live performances that has assumed a mythic status, in the same league as Caballe's star-making turn as Lucrezia Borgia. Magda Olivero, tragically, is not very well known, given that she didn't record much in the studio. However, thanks to live performances such as these, we will not have to guess about how the legend matches the hype. I have listened to this performance a few times by now, and I am blown away every time.

First, the opera itself is a neglected gem. Critics love to dismiss the plot, and the music. How can you dismiss such fine, tuneful, delicate music? And if the plot isn't that credible, it doesn't matter, since this is essentially a diva's chance to show off her theatrical ability.

Second, there is Olivero. This is a low-lying soprano role, like in other verismo operas. Olivero had an incredible range, and the low notes don't betray her, like they often did to Caballe. Her portamento is exquisite- she sounds like Tebaldi, but even more dramatic. Finally, there is that dramatic use of pianissimo, sung "on the breath." At every point, she nuances her performance, not just relying on prettily sung notes. Io Son L'Umile Ancella, the most recognizeable aria from Adriana, is sung with conviction. It is not seamless, but rather revelatory. Giusto Cielo, the declamation scene, is overwhelmingly powerful. If you understand the least bit of Italian, you will be roused. Even if you don't, just the way she declaims should rouse you! Finally, Poveri Fiori, sung by Olivero, is guaranteed to move you to tears. She "files" her voice down to a quiet pianissimo, so quiet you can barely hear it at one point. Every phrase is sung with unwavering conviction- you feel Adriana's incredible pain. Words can't really give justice to how incredibly Olivero sings this aria. Then, just when you've been moved to tears, you hear her dying gasps, and you are moved to tears again.

If every other singer on the recording was terrible, Olivero's Adriana would be enough to justify a spot in your collection for this opera. Fortunately, there are two other legends on the recording. You have Giulietta Simionato's Principessa, a vengeful creature that she sings with her fearsome, booming voice, replete with strong, secure high notes. The only heir to the Simionato throne was Fiorenza Cossotto, and since then we haven't had an Italian mezzo of this caliber. Speaking of caliber, you also have Franco Corelli's Maurizio. Yes, he is always loud and unsubtle, but I find him more likeable on this recording that I do others!

The conducting could have been more nuanced, but is adequate.