Guardian, 31 May 2024
Tim Ashley
Giordano: Andrea Chenier, London, Royal Opera House, ab 30. Mai 2024
Andrea Chénier review – Pappano ends on a high with this sensational, thrilling revival
David McVicar’s 2015 staging of Giordano’s French Revolution opera is the final production of Antonio Pappano’s tenure as music director of the Royal Opera. With leads Jonas Kaufmann and Sondra Radvanovsky, it is an exciting, affecting evening

Antonio Pappano’s final production as the Royal Opera’s music director is a revival of David McVicar’s 2015 staging of Andrea Chénier, Umberto Giordano’s 1896 examination of the relationship between desire and fanaticism, set during the French Revolution. It’s a thrilling account of an often remarkable work that sends you out into the street feeling elated and slightly jittery.

Pappano’s interpretation has shifted with time. What in 2015 was a slow burn has now become a thing of extremes, magnificently shaped, the high emotional pitch relentlessly sustained. Grand passions and political fervour are repeatedly elided in this music, as crowds acclaim revolutionary leaders with an uneasy rapture not far removed from the sensuality of lovers’ meetings. Elsewhere the ancien régime dies to mock Rameau, its faded elegance replaced by the revolutionary Ça Ira hurled out by the brass with terrifying exhilaration. Pappano is unsparing with it all, by turns lyrical and furiously energetic, and the playing can only be described as sensational.

As in 2015, the title role is taken by Jonas Kaufmann. Time has taken its toll on that famous dark tone, and a touch of metal now creeps occasionally into the sound. But Chénier remains one of his finest roles. Once past a couple of moments of effort in the Act I Improvviso, his top notes soar with ease. The man’s poetic sensibility and moral purpose are beautifully captured and conveyed, and there’s real depth of feeling in his scenes with Sondra Radvanovsky’s Maddalena. She is outstanding here, with a blaze in her voice and deep dramatic commitment. La Mamma Morta really hits home with its combination of fierce intensity and lyrical warmth.

Gérard, meanwhile, is played by the Mongolian baritone Amartuvshin Enkhbat, another superb singer, his voice beautifully even and focused. Dramatically he inclines on occasion to understatement, though Nemico Della Patria, in which Gérard gradually realises how private emotion rather than genuine altruism have dictated his political career, is magnificently yet subtly done. The smaller roles are all finely cast, from Rosalind Plowright’s Contessa, bristling with a sense of her own entitlement, to the great Elena Zilio’s harrowing Madelon, tragically sacrificing the last of her family to the revolutionary cause, and Katia Ledoux’s knowing, affectionate Bersi – an excellent young artist, someone to watch out for in future.

An opera about lives caught up in a specific moment in history, it resists interventionist directorial tampering, and McVicar’s staging, carefully revived by Thomas Guthrie, wisely plays it straight. The Act I ballet, choreographed by Agurtzane Arrien, is more Kenneth MacMillan than 18th century, but otherwise the production is rich in period detail and sometimes unsettling in its menace. It all adds up to a most exciting evening.

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