Opera, March 2015
Giordano: Andrea Chenier, London, Royal Opera House, 20. Januar 2015
Andrea Chénier
No, it's not Figaro or Tristan or Falstaff, but Andrea Chénier has its qualities, which led the congenial lady next to me to ask why it was so wrongly neglected, why she'd not heard this `wonderful opera' before? Unperformed at Covent Garden for 30 years, Giordano's melodrama finally returned this season with a strong cast, David McVicar directing, and Antonio Pappano in the pit. To be sure, much was expected. This was Jonas Kaufmann's role debut, and his publicists had not been idle, with profile articles appearing everywhere and some bloggers even concocting a London hook-up between him and Madonna. On the night, the tenor and his colleagues justified the hype: it was more or less `wonderful'.

McVicar set the action realistically, surely the right approach to this `dramma istorico' (however loose the history). The opera requires four separate locations, and the director and his set designer, Robert Jones, did their jobs efficiently, managing the changes with tolerable pauses after Acts 1 and 3. Jenny Tiramani, in her first Covent Garden assignment, helped to fashion some memorable stage pictures with clever, understated costumes: the red caps of the two lamplighters punctuating the light stone backgrounds of the public spaces, and two pink dresses bookending the grouped aristos at the Contessa di Coigny's party. As he often does, and does well, McVicar found specific tasks for minor characters and members of the crowd, using children shrewdly and singling out a few individuals for contrapuntal movement; he thus succeeded in representing living French citoyens rather than undifferentiated chorus members.

Kaufmann's poet [see this month's cover] was superb, especially for a first go at the role. He looked dashing in his blue tailcoat, played the reticent outsider with evident skill, and stepped knowingly downstage to deliver the vocal goods in his big moments. His opening phrase in the Act 2 duet with Maddalena, `Ora soave', was begun with a ravishing pianissimo and then increased with admirable control. He lacks, perhaps, the last ounce or two of elan—with this material just a bit of the demented is in order, and we didn't get it—but it seems churlish to complain about so beautiful and polished a performance.

Eva-Maria Westbroek, the Maddalena, acted persuasively, expressing the young lady's social discomfort in Act I and later seeming appropriately plain and fretful as the rich fugitive. Her singing was less persuasive, indeed slightly worrying. Although she has sung a fine Giorgetta in Tabarro here and similar roles elsewhere, the Italian parts don't seem to come naturally to her. Nevertheless, for a decade she has been the go-to girl for vocal power, but here she didn't seem to have it unreservedly: the climactic note of `La mamma morta' was abbreviated quickly, and once or twice in Act 4 she seemed audibly short of breath. Still, she held her own in the final moments, and no long queue of dramatic sopranos has lined up to challenge her in such music.

Želko Lučić was a terrific Carlo Gérard. He sounded a bit woolly and tentative as the Coigny footman, but soon he was in great voice, and 'Nemico della patria' emerged as just what it should be, an emotional pivot that thrills the house and propels the drama forward. The minor players included some old-timers and some newcomers. Rosalind Plowright was, properly, a distasteful Contessa di Coigny; Denyce Graves threw herself into the brief and not very grateful role of Bersi; and Peter Coleman-Wright was Fléville. Peter Hoare stood out as an excellent Abbé, and Roland Wood made a strong Royal Opera debut as Roucher.

The conductor and his band had much to he with the thrills of the evening. Pappano treats verismo respectfully, knowing what it is supposed to sound like and applying his skills to make it sound that way. In short, he provided excitement without vulgarity. A case in point is the entrance of the horns as the final duet picks up speed and emotional force: the sound was perfect, audible, pleasing, not at all raw or over the top. Tempos were judiciously regulated, orchestral volume kept just under control All these artists make me hope we won't have to wait another three decades for a revival.

  www.jkaufmann.info back top