Andrea Chenier, Royal Opera House - review: An exquisitely realised production

Jonas Kaufmann brings down the house with the sheer beauty of his singing

Michael Church
Wednesday 21 January 2015 15:56
Comments
Andrea Chenier at the Royal Opera House
Andrea Chenier at the Royal Opera House

André Chénier was a poet-satirist who fell foul of Robespierre and was guillotined in 1794; the formal beauty and moral fury of the poem he penned on the eve of his execution makes one of the most chilling death-row utterances ever. An Italian translation of that poem’s first line – comparing the sunset of his life with the end of a fine spring day - provides the aria which Umberto Giordano’s Andrea Chénier sings as he waits to mount the scaffold.

But there the similarities end. The hero of Andrea Chénier dies for a reason more in tune with late nineteenth-century audience requirements – love. This Chénier starts out as a radical, but his principles are no match for the charms of Maddalena, the beautiful young aristocrat who sends him fan letters signed ‘Hope’, and whose mortal danger moves him to throw up everything to save her. It’s a big part, requiring a big voice and presence, and for their first production in thirty years of this opera – Jose Carreras and Placido Domingo took turns to sing it last time – Covent Garden have cast Jonas Kaufmann.

Giordano was a contemporary of Puccini and shared a librettist with him, Luigi Illica, and there are echoes of Tosca throughout Andrea Chénier, notably of Cavaradossi’s farewell to life in ‘E lucevan le stelle’. But although there are overtones of Scarpia in the character of Gerard – a disaffected servant who also loves Maddalena, and who becomes a revolutionary – this character, unlike the evil Scarpia, is an all-round good guy who tries to save Chenier’s life despite the fact that Chenier has wounded him in a duel. Giordano wants to tell a simple, uplifting tale.

He also wants, by inserting popular songs, to evoke the atmosphere of the French Revolution, and in this he is faithfully abetted by David McVicar’s scrupulously researched and exquisitely realised production. The palace of the gentry and the pullulating streets are energetically brought to life, if in benign soft focus; the joyous libertinage of the exotically-dressed Merveilleuses and Incroyables is McVicar’s way of reminding us that for some people the Revolution was actually lots of fun. The courtroom scene, however, is queasily believable.

And the casting of the supporting characters works well, with Elena Zilio’s Madelon and Carlo Bosi’s Incroyable adding colour, and Denyce Graves’s forceful Bersi and Zeljko Lucic’s powerful Gerard laying the groundwork for the central encounter. Eva-Maria Westbroek’s firmly-sung Maddalena may possess a too-mature stateliness, but when Kaufmann launches into his opening aria it’s as though the sun has come out: with his convincingly heroic presence, and the sheer beauty of his singing, he simply brings the house down.

And so he does when he sings his dream of love, when he wrestles with his soul, and when he takes his leave of life: each aria is perfection incarnate. With Antonio Pappano bringing out the drama inherent in every bar of Giordano’s intricate score, there’s nothing schmaltzy about the duets between this pair of lovers, even if the emotions are pure Forties Hollywood. So as they walk to the waiting tumbril we get an unashamedly feel-good ending.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in