Express, January 25, 2015
By Clare Colvin
Giordano: Andrea Chenier, London, Royal Opera House, 20. Januar 2015
Giordano’s Andrea Chenier
Set during the reign of terror that swept through France in the wake of the 1789 Revolution, Andrea Chenier bears analogies with today’s events in Paris. Who would have thought writing poetry merited execution, yet that was the fate of the poet Chenier, guillotined on Robespierre’s orders at the age of 31.

Umberto Giordano’s romantic historical drama is rarely performed partly because of its demanding title role, regarded as a vehicle for a star tenor. Jose Carreras and PlacidoDomingo sang the role of Chenier in the 1980s Covent Garden production. Now, in a sumptuous new staging by David McVicar, the choice for Chenier falls naturally on the much lauded tenor Jonas Kaufmann.

The first act opens onto the powdered world of ancient regime France, exemplified by Robert Jones’s sets and Jenny Tiramani’s historically accurate costumes. Liveried servants light the candles on the chandeliers for a reception that Rosalind Plowright’s autocratic old Countess is holding at her chateau, despite news from Paris of the beleaguered King. Chenier arouses the Countess’s anger by criticising the aristocracy, though her daughter Maddalena (Eva-Maria Westbroek) falls instantly in love with him.

In Act 2 we are five years on, with Robespierre’s terror at its height, in a cafe frequented by the revolutionaries. A tumbril of victims for the guillotine is pursued by a mob hurling vegetables, in time-honoured French protest mode. Giordano’s blend of historical fact and fictional romance at times is reminiscent of the musical Les Miserables.

There is more than a hint of Puccini’s Tosca, too, when the Countess’s servant Gerard becomes a leading revolutionary and bargains, Scarpia-like, with Maddalena for her favours in exchange for the life of the condemned Chenier. In true operatic style, though, the two lovers go to the scaffold together after the final duet “Vicino a the s’acqueta,” declaring “Our death is the triumph of love.”

Kaufmann is peerless as Chenier, heroic both in voice and stage presence. Eva-Maria Westbroek is more low key, which mainly has to do with the role. Serbian baritone Zeljko Lucic is impressive as Gerard, the servant turned revolutionary who dominates from the start. His opening aria of hatred for the privileged rich,“T’odio, casa dorata”,brought a storm of applause.

There is luxury casting of the lesser roles. Peter Hoare turns up as a mincing Abbe to the Countess, and Peter Coleman-Wright as the underwritten Fleville, friend of Chenier. The Royal Opera orchestra under Antonio Pappano captures the lushness of the score, with its occasional lines of homage to Puccini.

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