Anna Netrebko (Adriana), Anita Rachvelishvili (The Princess Of Bouillon), Piotr Beczała (Maurizio), Carlo Bosi (The Abbé), Ambrogio Maestri (Michonnet), Maurizio Muraro (The Prince Of Bouillon)
Paris, 1730. The company of the Comédie Française is preparing for a performance of Racine’s tragedy Bajazet, which will include both the great actress Adriana Lecouvreur and her rival Mlle. Duclos. Michonnet, the stage manager, is fielding various complaints and demands from the actors. The Prince of Bouillon—a patron of the theater whose current mistress is Mlle. Duclos—and the Abbé de Chazeuil come backstage to compliment the performers. Adriana appears, rehearsing some of her lines. She is embarrassed when the prince and the Abbé praise her and claims to be only a servant to her dramatic art. With the performance starting, Michonnet is left alone with Adriana. He has long been secretly in love with her and, on the basis of a recent inheritance, intends to admit his feelings and propose marriage. He is prevented from doing so, however, by Adriana’s confession of love for an officer in the service of Maurizio, the Count of Saxony and pretender to the Polish throne. Unknown to her, the officer is actually Maurizio himself. He arrives and declares his passion for Adriana. They arrange to meet after the performance, and she gives him a nosegay of violets as she leaves to go on stage. The Abbé has intercepted a letter to Maurizio, arranging an assignation later that evening. He mistakenly thinks it is from Mlle. Duclos because the rendezvous is at a villa that the prince keeps for her. But La Duclos is in fact the go-between for the Princess of Bouillon, a former lover and political supporter of Maurizio. The prince, who is tiring of his mistress, decides to surprise the couple by holding a party at the same time and place. Maurizio receives the letter from the princess. Because of the potential political importance, he decides that he must meet the princess and sends a note on stage to Adriana breaking his appointment with her. Although Adriana is upset by his message, she keenly accepts an invitation by the prince to his party: She has heard that the Count of Saxony will be there and hopes to have the opportunity to advance the career of her “officer” lover.
At Mlle. Duclos’s villa by the Seine, the princess is anxiously waiting for Maurizio; she still loves him
jealously. When he arrives, she notices the violets, so to allay her suspicions that they are from another woman, he gives them to her. When the princess tells Maurizio of her conversation with the queen of France on his behalf, he does not respond as passionately as she wishes. He admits to loving another but does not reveal who. The sound of the prince arriving surprises them, and Maurizio hides the Princess in an adjacent room. The prince and the Abbé arrive and congratulate Maurizio on his latest mistress, thinking it to be Mlle. Duclos. Maurizio plays along with their mistake in order to protect the princess. When Adriana arrives, she discovers that her lover is the Count of Saxony himself. The Abbé tells Adriana that Maurizio had an assignation at the villa, and Maurizio admits to her that it was with another woman, but about his political situation. He asks her to trust him and to help the other woman get away in the dark, undiscovered. Adriana agrees and follows his instructions. Yet despite Adriana’s help, the princess’s jealousy gets the better of her. Through an exchange in the dark, each suspects the identity of their rival for Maurizio’s love. The rest of the party return. Adriana determines to expose the princess, but she has already gone, leaving her bracelet behind. Adriana is convinced that Maurizio has betrayed her.
In the Prince of Bouillon’s palace, the Abbé is supervising the arrangements for a party. He flirts with the princess, who becomes tired of his attentions. Adriana arrives. The princess recognizes Adriana’s voice as that of the woman who helped her in the dark. To satisfy herself that Adriana is indeed her rival, she tells her husband—so that Adriana will overhear— that Maurizio has been fatally wounded in a duel. Observing Adriana’s shocked reaction confirms everything the princess suspects. To Adriana’s surprise, relief, and joy, Maurizio arrives. With the prince’s encouragement, Maurizio describes to the party his victory in the battle for Courland. As entertainment for the party, there is a ballet on the Judgement of Paris. (In the myth, the goddess of discord threw a golden apple down at the feast of the gods, inscribed “to the fairest.” The shepherdprince Paris was charged to judge the contest.)
Still consumed by jealousy, the princess taunts Adriana in a series of increasingly pointed and bitter exchanges. When the princess mentions a violet nosegay, Adriana displays the bracelet, which the prince recognizes as his wife’s. Compromised, the princess attempts to distract everyone by inviting Adriana to perform a speech from one of her famous roles. The prince suggests Racine’s Phèdre, and Adriana chooses a speech where Phèdre confesses her adulterous and incestuous passion. She aims her lines straight at the princess. While the party is delighted with the performance, the princess is consumed with rage at this insult and vows revenge.
Convinced that Maurizio no longer loves her, Adriana has retreated into solitude, abandoning the stage. It is her name day, and Michonnet arrives in an attempt to cheer her up. Four members of the Comédie Française visit to persuade her back to the company. They give her presents, as does Michonnet, who has used his inheritance to redeem Adriana’s pawned jewelry. Touched by these attentions, Adriana decides that she will return to the stage. A package marked as “from Maurizio” arrives for Adriana. In it are the violets, now withered, which she interprets as a sign that he no longer loves her. She is stricken with grief and with an air of finality, kisses the violets and throws them on the fire. Michonnet has already summoned Maurizio, who now arrives to declare his continuing devotion to Adriana. He proposes to her, but she sadly tells him that their lives can never be lived together. She asks about the violets, but he knows nothing about the package: He did not send it. Suddenly, Adriana begins to feel unwell, then becomes delirious. She declares herself to be Melpomene, the muse of Tragedy, and seems to be in a world of her own, reliving moments on stage. The princess has taken her revenge: She sent the violets and laced them with poison. Adriana dies in Maurizio’s arms