The Stage, MAY 31, 2024
By George Hall
Giordano: Andrea Chenier, London, Royal Opera House, ab 30. Mai 2024
Andrea Chénier review
“This is a night for exciting singing”
Star tenor Jonas Kaufmann’s return to Covent Garden is a triumph

Almost exactly a year ago, Jonas Kaufmann – long acclaimed as the leading tenor of our time – had something of a vocal disaster at Covent Garden in the title role of Massenet’s Werther. After just two performances he withdrew due to illness, leaving the Royal Opera scrambling around internationally to locate some credible substitutes. Since then, Kaufmann has continued his career elsewhere, to varying reviews, but his reappearance with the London company in the title role of this opera by Giordano was anticipated, especially among the tenor’s adoring fans, with a blend of optimism and trepidation. Would be able to sing it? Would he even get to the end? For a while on the first night – maybe up to the interval – there are mixed feelings: his voice overall seems to lack its former size and lustre, and he’s clearly taking each phrase carefully, feeling his way note by note; but his tenor never actually fails. By the second half, though, his confidence is clearly back, and at his best he sounds like the Kaufmann of yore. What’s more, his artistry remains intact, perhaps bolstered by the tonal beauty and poise of his chief partner Sondra Radvanovsky singing the role of Chénier’s beloved Maddalena, who elects to die with him on the guillotine in an ending where Giordano pulls out all the emotional stops.

Set at the time of the French Revolution, this fictionalised account of the poet André Chénier – who was executed for ‘crimes against the state’ in July 1794 – is a frank melodrama that receives a varied and consistently apt visual realisation in David McVicar’s conventional staging. The opera has many small roles, with exceptional standouts on this occasion from the luscious-voiced Katia Ledoux as Maddalena’s former maid Bersi; Rosalind Plowright as Maddalena’s haughty aristocrat mother, the Countess of Coigny; and another unforgettable cameo from Elena Zilio as Old Madelon, an elderly woman who gives up her last remaining grandson to be a revolutionary soldier – another of Giordano’s infallibly tear-jerking moments. The third principal role – that of Gérard, discontented servant turned revolutionary firebrand turned critic of the revolution itself – is sung with tremendous power, if little subtlety, by Amartuvshin Enkhbat, who brings the house down with his big solo just before Chénier’s trial, Nemico della Patria. But this is a night for exciting singing, and Kaufmann can be congratulated on turning it into a triumph. The final duet is a knockout. He, the rest of the singers, the chorus and the orchestra are aided and abetted in their every gesture by conductor Antonio Pappano, in his final production in the role of the Royal Opera’s music director. Could anyone make Giordano’s score sound more dramatically vivid?

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