Opera News, April 2015
Giordano: Andrea Chenier, London, Royal Opera House, 20. Januar 2015
Andrea Chénier - London
It’s been thirty years since the Royal Opera last staged Giordano’s Andrea Chénier, a work of the second rank, arguably, but one that nevertheless attracts great singers and a large public. In this new production — ultra-traditional in style in the hands of David McVicar, working with set designer Robert Jones and costume designer Jenny Tiramani — it went down extremely well with the first-night audience on January 21.

For some, the whole raison d’être of the occasion was the role debut of Jonas Kaufmann — the tenor of the moment, as far as Covent Garden audiences (and, indeed, many others) are concerned. Kaufmann’s may not be an intrinsically Italianate tone, nor has he the decibels of a Corelli or a Del Monaco in the part, but he has taste and considerable acting ability, and his performance was considered and beautifully sung — especially in the final act, when he seemed to gain some extra power at a point in the evening when his colleague Eva-Maria Westbroek, singing Maddalena di Coigny, was starting to tire. This may have stopped the exciting final duet from quite lifting the roof, as it might have done had both the principals been at their best — but then again Westbroek’s instrument is not especially Italianate, either. Nevertheless, throughout the performance Kaufmann shaped all his phrases with imagination and flawless technical skill, and his ovation was well deserved.

Closest of the three central performances to the classic Italian verismo ideal was that of Serbian baritone Željko Lučić, whose big, beefy tone was always generously employed, if without an ideal subtlety of manner to offset the sheer grandeur (or perhaps grandiosity) of his superior baritone.

Secondary roles were well looked after, too, with Denyce Graves offering a Bersi of considerable allure and personality; Rosalind Plowright a Contessa di Coigny whose distaste for the lower orders was as palpable as her veteran mezzo was secure; and Elena Zilio a highly noticeable Madelon — one of only two members of the cast, incidentally, to hail from Italy. (The other was Carlo Bosi’s Incredibile.) Zilio, naturally, was able to make her words tell in a way that the non-Italian singers strove to equal.

The musical side of the evening was in the capable hands of Antonio Pappano, whose assignments at the Royal Opera have ranged from Mozart to Wagner to Birtwistle, and have included Ponchielli as well as Leoncavallo and Puccini. Once again, Pappano’s innate sense of theater was managed with discretion, and any danger of the score’s sounding vulgar was neatly avoided. The Royal Opera Chorus and Orchestra were in excellent form.

McVicar’s staging was textbook-neat; the production’s conventional look and style probably suited the piece better in their literalism than any other approach would have done. It also looked expensive, which, as a coproduction with San Francisco and Beijing, it may well have been.

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