“Adrienne Lecouvreur,” an opera in four acts with music by Francois Cilea and text by A. Colautti after the work of Scribe and Legouvé was produced in Milan in 1903.
Maurice, Comte de Saxe. The Prince de Bouillon. The Abbé de Chazeuil. Michonnet, prompter of the Comédie Francaise. Quinault, Poisson, sociétaires. Majordomo, Adrienne Lecouvreur, of the Comédie Francaise. The Princesse de Bouillon. Mlle. Jouvenot, Mlle. Dangeville, sociétaires. The Duchesse d’Aumont. The Marquise. The Baroness. A maid. Ladies, gentlemen, valets, lackeys. Ballet consisting of Paris, Mercury, Juno, Pallas, Venus, Amazons, and Cupids.
In the greenroom of the Comédie Francaise, Michonnet, the prompter, is having a sad time of it. Mlle. Jouvenot wants her powder; Poisson is mad for rouge; Mlle. Dangeville is dying for her fan; Quinault has instant need of his coat; a peremptory voice demands a handkerchief; another calls for a sword.
Michonnet reflects that he sometimes pays a good price for his ambition to be an actual sociétaire or a member of the Comédie Francaise, and for his desire to be ever near Adrienne. While he is thus reflecting, the Prince de Bouillon, accompanied by his sycophant, the Abbé de Chazeuil, come to pay their compliments to Adrienne, who soon appears. Dressed as Roxana, she is studying her role. A magnificent necklace, presented to her by the Queen, hangs about her neck. She rehearses a passage and the little audience breaks into applause.
It is easy to see why Adrienne’s great gifts are making her the idol of Paris. With an impulse of gratitude, she goes over to Michonnet and declares that whatever success she may have had she owes to him, her faithful and disinterested friend and teacher. Pleased and happy, he is encouraged to endeavor to tell her, a little later when they are alone, what for years he has been trying to say, that he worships her. His uncle, the pharmacist, has just left him 10,000 pounds and he is at a loss what to do with it. Sometimes he has ” a mad idea of marrying.”
” Fine,” exclaims Adrienne. Sometimes, she confesses, shyly, the same idea has occurred to her. She loves? ” Yes.” Why not tell this true friend, the state of whose feelings, alas, she does not guess. The object of her affection is merely a young officer in the service of the Comte de Saxe, son of the King of Poland and heir to the estates of Courland. He is fighting to regain his own and once saved her from insult at the risk of his own life. Only today he has returned from war, and will be at the theatre. And Michonnet goes away, his love too true to turn to resentment when it finds itself not reciprocated.
The lovers steal an interview before the play. Adrienne is full of questions as to Maurice’s advancement. Has he won the favor of the Count? The Count is very difficult to please. Then how she would like to meet him and inter-cede ! But the Count is a dangerous man, warns Maurice. Yes, admits Adrienne, all women love him. Maurice pretends to be jealous, and then to be consoled by her promise to meet him after the play.
Meantime, the Prince, who is trying to break off an entanglement with Duclos, the actress, intercepts a letter, which he believes she has written and which bids Maurice come that night to the villa the Prince built for her. The Prince plans to surprise them and by playing the role of a betrayed lover, to terminate the affair. He therefore invites the entire company of the Comédie to supper there. Adrienne has played as never before but her triumph is robbed of its sweetness by a message from Maurice, canceling their engagement. She has little heart for the Prince’s supper-party but consents to go upon learning that the Comte de Saxe is to be present.
It is not Duclos, but the Princesse de Bouillon, whose agent she is, who has made the rendezvous at the villa. Maurice, it may be explained, is the Comte de Saxe himself. She is completely in love with him and to complicate matters, she holds the success of his political enterprises in her hands. He is delighted to learn that through her intercession the Cardinal has consented to his raising an army. From some half tangible change in his manner, she ventures, scarcely believing it herself, that he loves another woman, and sees in his face that her suspicions are correct. She haughtily demands the name of her rival and he refuses to disclose it. Just then the supper guests arrive, and the Prince orders the trap to be closed. The Princess, aghast at the sound of her husband’s voice, hides in an adjacent apartment. Maurice is presented to the astonished Adrienne in his true person. He manages to whisper to her that he is true, and asks her to guard the apartment containing the other woman. Adrienne yields to an impulse of generosity and offers to unlock the garden gate for her. On the way the jealous Princess discovers that this is the woman to whom she has lost her lover. They strive to learn each other’s identity but the darkness is too dense.
In Act III, the Princess, with no clue but the memory of Adrienne’s wonderful voice, enlists the aid of the Abbé and goes upon her hunt. She gives a reception. Adrienne is among the guests and when she speaks, the Princess knows that her quest is ended. Adrienne from the incident of a lost bracelet also learns that she confronts her rival.
The women exchange pleasantries, referring to the night of the rendezvous. Adrienne is asked to recite and she addresses to the Princess a passage from ” Phèdre which fits her all too well.
The fourth act passes at the house of Adrienne, whose doubts of Maurice have made her ill. The faithful Michonnet comes to comfort her. He presents to her, as a birthday present, the necklace the Queen had bestowed upon her and which Adrienne had sold to pay the debts of Maurice. Michonnet has redeemed it with his little fortune. Adrienne’s fellow actors flock in to pay their compliments. A belated parcel is brought to her. It appears to be from Maurice and contains a faded bouquet of hers. Its strange perfume makes her faint; its insult tears her heart. But Maurice follows soon after to offer his hand, as well as his throne, if fortune restores it to him. She tries to realize her joy but is strangely dazed. It is her happiness? No ! It is his flowers? He sent no flowers !
She reels and falls, gradually losing consciousness of her surroundings. The room is full of phantasms. Just before she dies she has a moment of transcendent joy in which she realizes that Maurice loves her. But the Princess has worsted her rival. The bouquet had been poisoned.