The Financial Times, January 21, 2015
Richard Fairman
Giordano: Andrea Chenier, London, Royal Opera House, 20. Januar 2015
Andrea Chénier, Royal Opera House, London — review
Jonas Kaufmann’s dark tenor smoulders in this opulent, unashamedly old-fashioned production

It is 30 years since the last Andrea Chénier at the Royal Opera House. Nobody seems to have missed it much, but when there is a tenor who aspires to the title role, Giordano’s opera makes its return. Carreras and Domingo, two of the “Three Tenors”, sang it last time round. Now Jonas Kaufmann steps forward as the star tenor of his generation.

David McVicar’s stately new production makes a fine showcase for him. Andrea Chénier, the story of a real-life poet during the French Revolution, reads like a paperback historical romance. It is hard to imagine the opera surviving the attentions of a cutting-edge director. McVicar has chosen to be shamelessly, opulently old-fashioned. For the ancien régime his designers have raided the pastel colours in the paintbox, unfurled yards of silk, and lit every chandelier from the props room. The Reign of Terror is peopled by rent-a-party sans-culottes (though the pristine Revolutionary courtroom looks more like Scandinavia c.2010). Who said they don’t make opera like they used to?

Into this frame Kaufmann steps like the handsome subject of a portrait by David. He has never sounded better in London. His dark tenor smoulders with the heat of a poet’s unfulfilled ardour and his top notes ring out effortlessly (one of them goes from the softest thread of sound to a blazing forte). He sings intelligible Italian and cuts a dashing figure. Andrea Chénier’s costume fits him to the manner born. As his aristocratic lover Maddalena di Coigny, Eva-Maria Westbroek does not sound very Italianate, and the style is somewhat lumpy, but she makes a worthy match for Kaufmann, not least in decibels, and Zeljko Lučić is a strong, sturdy Gérard.

The large cast sports some notable cameos. For five minutes Elena Zilio’s desolate Madelon makes Giordano’s opera feel a serious tract on the plight of the suffering. Denyce Graves snatches five minutes of star quality as a rather blowsily-sung Bersi. Rosalind Plowright makes a delightfully camp Contessa di Coigny, Adrian Clarke a vivid Mathieu, Carlo Bosi an incisive Incredibile. Antonio Pappano conducts, as always, as if his life depends on every note. Giordano’s soft-cover novella could survive on nothing less. This Andrea Chénier is an old-fashioned operatic success.

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