Opera Now, May 31, 2024
Jonathan Whiting
Giordano: Andrea Chenier, London, Royal Opera House, ab 30. Mai 2024
Pappano's final production as the Royal Opera’s music director is a success
Umberto Giordano’s Andrea Chénier often falls by the wayside, living in the shadow of the giant that is Puccini’s ‘shabby shocker’ Tosca that premiered only four years later. Even at first glance, the similarities are almost uncanny. A tenor finds himself arrested and destined for execution whilst his soprano lover begs a baritone (who has loved her since childhood) to release him – all against the backdrop of revolution. But one shouldn’t go into the theatre expecting Puccini-lite, Andrea Chénier holds its own as a suspenseful thriller with a sophisticated and stark commentary on class, revolution and sacrifice.

American-Canadian soprano Sondra Radavnovsky gives a beautiful vulnerability to the role of Maddalena di Coigny, her rich velvet tone effortlessly fills the house at no expense of expression or nuance. It takes an act for her to really come into her own but her act three aria ‘La mamma morta’ is a particular highlight – a grounded and convincing performance. Jonas Kaufman as the titular poet Andrea Chénier (who originated the role in this production back in 2015) brings a compelling stoicism to the part. As expected, his excellent dynamic control and tone are on show throughout, though perhaps not always matching Radavnovsky’s energy.

One notable downside is in the source material itself, where in Tosca (and La bohème for that matter) we are presented with a down-to-earth and oddly relatable couple, Chénier can’t quite match that. The plot quickly moves through the falling in love phase to get to the action which could certainly appeal to some. Where Chénier triumphs, in fact, is in its villain – where Scarpia is almost a cartoon with his evil schemes, Carlo Gérad is a broken man reconciling with his long-held morals being tested by the regime he championed. Mongolian baritone Amartuvshin Enkhbat is a standout here – his bold tone cuts through the orchestra, each word held a compelling weight. His act three aria ‘Nemico della patria’ was a personal favourite of the night – his anti-hero persona could lead many to root for him instead…

In a world of stripped-back, minimal white-wall productions (many of which are very successful and are perfectly valid interpretations) it is certainly refreshing to see a sumptuous production like this. The elaborate sets by Robert Jones create an illusion of depth and there’s a satisfying unity across the four acts. This, alongside the attention to detail in Jenny Tiramini’s costumes, allowed us to be fully immersed in the oppressive world of the Reign of Terror. Similarly, the direction (as with the source material) leaves nothing superfluous, each scene, line and action has meaning and propels the narrative.

One cannot go without mentioning the orchestra of the Royal Opera House. It navigated Giordano’s rich vibrant score with an effortless ferocity and tenderness. Giordano particularly enjoys juxtaposing bold brass chords with a solo instrument immediately after – these subito pianos were highly effective. What else could one expect under the baton of the great Antonio Pappano – the whole night was a masterclass in music direction.

A perfect opera for newcomers and those looking for something different but still in walking distance to the works of Puccini. A great facet of the Royal Opera Houses regular production repertoire.


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