An opera in four acts
Libretto by Arturo Colautti,
based on Adrienne Lecouvreur by Eugène Scribe and Ernest Legouvé,
with music by Francesco Cilèa
Maurizio, Count of Saxony (tenor)
Adriana Lecouvreur, an actress of the Comédie Française (soprano)
Michonnet, a stage manager of the Comédie Française (baritone)
Princess de Bouillon (mezzosoprano)
Prince de Bouillon (bass)
The Abbé de Chazeuil (tenor)
Mademoiselle Jouvenot (soprano)
Mademoiselle Dangeville (mezzosoprano)
A major-domo (tenor)
The action takes place in Paris in 1730.
In the dressing rooms of the Comédie Française. As they await their stage entrances, actresses Jouvenot and Dangeville and actors Poisson and Quinault of the Comédie Française bustle around the stage manager, poor put-upon Michonnet, who does his job without complaining as he secretly nurses an ambition to become a member of the company.
Along comes Prince de Bouillon, the "protector" of one of the theatre’s divas, accompanied by the Abbé de Chazeuil. They pay compliments to the actresses, doing so with great relish. The Prince enquires where his protégée Duclos is; but just at that moment Adriana Lecouvreur puts in an appearance, reciting the role that she is about to perform, and coming across as a true lover of her art. The Prince, fretful at Duclos’ absence and having been told that she is writing a note, asks the faithful Abbé de Chazeuil to intercept it, giving him money in case he needs to bribe someone.
Michonnet, resolved to take the plunge and tell Adriana he loves her, starts by explaining that he has come into a small inheritance from an uncle in Carcassonne. She doesn’t catch on; but when Michonnet is about to get to the point, she reveals that she’s sweet on a young officer in the service of Maurizio, Count of Saxony and pretender to the Polish throne. Actually, the young officer is none other than Maurizio himself, who has been courting her incognito. Just as Adriana is telling Michonnet of their romance, Maurizio himself enters, declaring his love for her. Nevertheless, he mentions that he has got himself into a fix, and fears he has fallen out of favour with the Count of Saxony. She gives him a posy of violets for his buttonhole, promising that as soon as she can get herself presented to the Count, she’ll put in a good word for him.
The Abbé has obtained from Duclos’ maid the note, in which her mistress arranges a tryst later that evening near the Prince’s villa by the Seine. But the note is addressed to Maurizio’s theatre box; and the jealous Prince decides to throw a party at the villa after the performance, to catch the pair in flagrante.
During Adriana’s monologue on stage, Michonnet looks on emotionally. Duclos’ note, which she actually wrote on behalf of the Princess de Bouillon, is now delivered to Maurizio, who decides to keep the tryst with the Princess, and leaves the theatre without waiting for Adriana as he had promised. Once he has gone, the Prince invites everyone to his party at the villa. At first Adriana declines the invitation; but when she finds out that she’ll get to meet the Count of Saxony, she accepts in the hope of being able to intercede with him on her lover’s behalf.
In the drawing room of a villa by the Seine. The Princess de Bouillon is anxiously awaiting Maurizio, and when he appears she asks him to explain why he is late. To reassure her, Maurizio gives her the posy he received from Adriana. The Princess tells him she has spoken on his behalf to the Queen and the Cardinal. The King is willing to help him, but something will have to be sorted out with Maurizio’s enemies at court.
As Maurizio listens to her revelations, he considers that it would be prudent to flee; but the Princess asks him not to go. She declares her love to him and accuses him of loving another. He admits that he no longer loves her, but assures her of his admiration and gratitude. The arrival of a carriage brings their tryst to an end.
The Prince de Bouillon believes that he’ll find Maurizio with Duclos. Adriana’s entrance leads to a few moments of uncertainty on account of Maurizio’s presence in the villa. The Prince mounts a guard over the room where he believes Duclos is; but, finding that Maurizio is alone, courtesy obliges him to act as if he knew nothing and to introduce Maurizio to Adriana as who he really is: the Count of Saxony. Adriana feels hurt at having been taken in by Maurizio; but he, after confirming that he loves her, confesses that his presence in the villa is politically motivated. There is a woman, whom he does not name, hiding in the adjoining room, and Adriana must help her escape. Adriana obeys, even though Michonnet warns her against meddling in the nobility’s affairs.
When Adriana tells the unknown woman that she can now slip away unseen, the Princess can tell from Adriana’s tone of voice that they’re both in love with Maurizio. Adriana wants to know who the mystery woman is. The Princess slips away unnoticed, but she drops a bracelet that will later give her identity away to Adriana.
The grand ballroom at the Hôtel de Bouillon. Under the Abbé’s watchful eye, preparations are under way for a party. The Princess doesn’t know how she can find out who her rival in love is, but she’s sure she’ll recognize her voice if she hears it again. She enlists the Abbé’s help with her detective work. Adriana arrives, accompanied by Michonnet. The Princess immediately recognizes her voice; and to test whether Adriana’s really the one, she drops into the conversation a rumour that Maurizio has been seriously wounded in a duel. This makes Adriana almost pass out. When Maurizio enters uninjured, Adriana is ecstatic. There’s no longer any doubt in the Princess’ mind. Maurizio speaks with her in a low voice, and now it’s Adriana’s turn to grow suspicious. At the Prince de Bouillon’s request, Mauricio describes his victory over the Russian general Menshikov in Courland.
The ballet The Judgement of Paris is performed. The Princess and Adriana spar with one another, and the guests drink it all in. The Princess alludes to a posy of violets; Adriana produces the bracelet and explains where she found it. The Prince identifies the bracelet as his wife’s. When the dancer in the role of Paris concludes the ballet by giving the golden apple to the Princess de Bouillon, she maliciously suggests that Adriana should recite a passage from Ariadne abandoned. The Prince proposes Phèdre. Adriana had not wanted to recite, but now she seizes upon Phèdre, in which the heroine denounces sinners and adulterous women. She aims the final lines directly at the Princess. Adriana becomes so emotionally worked up that she asks permission to leave the room. The Princess vows revenge.
A room in Adriana’s home. Adriana hasn’t recovered her poise; she hasn’t been able to talk with Maurizio and she feels cast off. Michonnet arrives to comfort her, followed by her colleagues from the Comédie Française bearing gifts for her on her name-day. They want to have her back with them at the theatre. They tell her all the latest gossip, from which she learns that Duclos has left the Prince. They sing her a satirical song that’s going around Paris on the topic. The maid comes in bearing a small casket labelled "From Maurizio". Overcome with emotion, Adriana asks Michonnet for help so she can open the casket in private. When everyone has left the room, Adriana lifts the lid. A strange odour makes her feel ill. As she gazes at the posy of violets, now shrivelled, a wave of depression comes over her. Seeing her so downcast, Michonnet tells her that he has written to Maurizio, and that he is on his way back to see her. Just then Maurizio’s voice can be heard far off, calling her name. He asks her to forgive him for his absence: he’s always caught up with political matters. He reaffirms his love for her, dispels any concerns she may have about his relationship with the Princess, and asks her to marry him. Although Adriana doesn’t feel worthy of a future king, she accepts. Suddenly she faints. Maurizio is alarmed. She thinks it’s because her heart leapt with joy when he proposed to her; but then she remembers the flowers. Maurizio says it wasn’t him who sent them. Michonnet explains to Maurizio that the flowers were sent by the Princess; Adriana was poisoned when she smelled them. Michonnet goes out in search of an antidote. Summoning all her strength, Adriana recites a tragic passage. She dies in Maurizio’s arms.