Giordano's Andrea Chénier is an opera that has slowly gone out of fashion - it's rather overheated and cornily idealistic. But for all the absurdity of the libretto, the score still smoulders appealingly. With three really strong principals the big numbers can still ignite. And there are clear opportunities for the director - like the climactic moment when Gerard, servant to the Countess, ushers a band of beggars into the ballroom at the height of the evening's festivities and announces "Her Highness, Poverty!".
Given the resources of a big house, moments like this can make their mark, but director Martin Lloyd-Evans and designer Peter Rice have no such resources at their disposal and that has plainly cramped their style. Lloyd-Evans makes some attempt to convey the brutality of Robespierre's Reign of Terror when the foppish spy L'Incredible (Robert Burt) sadistically beats Bersi, the heroine's maid (the ripe-voiced Heather Shipp), to death, but mostly he resorts to the rent-a-mob approach, a few revolutionaries with dirty faces and spotless clothes baying for blood. It's Les Mis without the budget.
The orchestral contribution under Peter Robinson was below the City of London Sinfonia's best, and the bit parts fared better than the principals. Richard Burkhard's Roucher displayed a notable voice, and Carole Wilson, in the ironic double of the Countess and Madelon, a woman who lost her son in the storming of the Bastille, found pathos amid the bathos.
Olafur Sigurdarson reprised his bullish turn as Macbeth in the guise of Gerard. The bigness of the voice demands attention but the crudeness of the phrasing and the dryness of the delivery quickly wears thin. Katarina Jovanovic (Maddalena) has all kinds of technical problems: woolly production, poor focus, and too many unfinished phrases to count.
In the title role, so beloved of tenors through the ages, John Hudson began "Un di, all'azzurro spazio" with a frog in his throat and proceeded to fall short of all its top notes. The voice is not without quality, as we've heard at ENO, but there are problems to be sorted, problems which could only momentarily be forgotten as he and his beloved sang their heads off in the final duet (and lost them as well).
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