Operawire, May 31, 2024
By Mike Hardy
Giordano: Andrea Chenier, London, Royal Opera House, ab 30. Mai 2024
Royal Opera House 2023-24 Review: Andrea Chénier
Barely a fortnight after His Majesty the King, opera luminaries, star singers, guests and audience all gathered to bid a fond and emotional farewell to Antonio Pappano as the Royal Opera House’s musical director; the maestro was back on the very same podium, guiding his musical charges through Giordano’s “Andrea Chénier.”

Based loosely on the real-life French poet, André Chénier, who was executed during the French revolution, Giordano wrote, and always anticipated this most famous of his operas, to be a “star vehicle” for the tenor in question. Starting with Giuseppe Borgatti, the role of Chénier has borne memorable performances by such legends as Francesco Tamagno (who studied the work with Giordano), Giovanni Martinelli, Aureliano Pertile, Beniamino Gigli, Giacomo Lauri-Volpi and Enrico Caruso, who sang the role on this very stage in 1907.

The State of Kaufmann
Jonas Kaufmann, himself, performed the role to great critical acclaim in 2015 and so it was with much eager anticipation that his adoring public greeted this very same, David McVicar revival. That said, I’m sure MORE than a few were uncertain as to whether the German tenor would be able to perform, given his recent, serious bout of laryngitis, the effects of which were plain to see in the above-mentioned tribute to Pappano 14 days ago where Kaufmann clearly struggled at times, in between coughs and throat clearing.

I am happy to report that, despite some seemingly cautious meanderings through certain passages, the superstar tenor seems to be well on the way to being something of his iconic, magisterial, self. His “Un dì, all’azzurro spazio” was delivered with great emotional intensity, a true hallmark of Kaufmann’s stature. He took more frequent breaths to deliver the passages than the legato-laden 2015 rendition and on this opening night it lacked the razor-sharp clarity of that occasion of nine years ago, but this was still a solid performance which the audience were keen to applaud at its cessation.

His second act aria, “Credi al destino” saw him grow in voice and, seemingly, confidence and his interactions and duet with the love of his life, Maddalena di Coigny, were wonderful, his trademark rich, dark, baritonal timbre and liquid gold colour coming to the fore.

In the final act, his “Come un bel dì, di maggio” was again, measured to my ear; but it could well be that he was controlling his reserves for the climatic crescendo with Maddalena, which he delivered with power and panache. The opera world has something of a dearth of superstars at the moment, and the industry, AND the public, need Kaufmann. Long may he prosper.

A Superstar at Her Best
Someone who is not only prospering, but who seems to be constantly improving, is American-Canadian soprano Sondra Radvanovsky, here playing Maddalena di Coigny, daughter of the supercilious Contessa di Coigny and love interest for Chénier. She moves with youthful agility and dexterity, and her voice follows suite. She has a commanding lower register that conveys much emotion, a soaring upper register that positively pings and resonates off every surface of the house and a remarkable gift of delivering heart wrenching pianissimos in an instant.

Her duet with Kaufmann was sublime, the passage beginning “Eravate possente, io invece minacciata” delivered with beauty and conviction. Her entreaties to him, “Udite! Son sola! Son sola e minacciata! Son sola al mondo! Ed ho paura! Proteggermi volete?” were utterly captivating and most endearing.

The famous Act three aria, “La mamma morta,” where Maddalena recounts the death of her mother, perished in the flames of her home that was burned by a marauding mob, was heart-achingly evocative. A mixture of visceral beauty and almost tangible suffering. The aria must have been a tortuous mission for her. I managed to speak to Radvanovsky briefly, after the performance, where she recounted that the last time she had sung it, her mother had been in the audience. She had since passed away in 2022 and Sondra made clear that getting through the aria was a huge, personal struggle. The performance of it prompted a well-deserved, rapturous applause from the audience.

Completing the Vocal Trifecta
The role of Carlo Gerard, Revolutionary official, jealous love rival and former servant to the di Coigny household, was played here by Mongolian baritone Amartuvshin Enkhbat, who is replacing Carlos Álvarez. After a cautionary start, he quickly gathered momentum and force, producing a most potent, orotund sound. His “Nemico della patria,” his big aria from Act three was beautifully nuanced and impassioned, enabling him to display his virtuoso skills; rich, treacle-dark resonance morphing into velvet smooth softer utterances. His aria produced, perhaps, the biggest response of the evening.

Amongst a large cast of bit parts, it would be frivolous to try and appraise all but there were some notable examples, worthy of mention.

Katia Ledoux, in the role of Bersi, Maddelena’s servant, was positively dynamism personified, with a voice to match. The French mezzo-soprano made her mark early in Act two, now a merveilleuse, where she sings of the Revolution. She has a positively huge, attention-grabbing clarion voice, and I suspect that she is destined for bigger and greater things.

Rosalind Plowright sang proficiently as the Contessa, with the right amount of haughtiness and Alexander Kravets as Incroyable and spy acts wonderfully with mischievous malcontent and brooding malevolence.

Veteran mezzo-soprano Elena Zilio sings an emotive Madelon, an elderly woman volunteering her grandson for service for the cause.

Set designer Robert Jones builds on pure chocolate box artistry with opulent, plush and extravagant period sets and lighting designer Adam Silverman creates great mood with spots, key fills and atmospheric backlighting.

The chorus, as ever, were superb, especially in the female section from act I, ‘O pastorelle addio’ the pastoral chorus.

Umberto Giordano wrote around 12 operas, but only this and “Fedora” remain as performances today. Quintessentially verismo, this most famous of his works has some most exquisitely composed passages, especially when directed with the baton of Maestro Pappano, and elicited from the strings and woodwind of the Royal Opera House orchestra.


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