Culture and Civilisations

It’s a Reign of Terror but the music is gripping

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It’s a Reign of Terror but the music is gripping

Sondra Radvanovsky as Maddalena di Coigny, Dimitri Platanias as Carlo Gerard (C) ROH 2019. Photograph by Catherine Ashmore

This magnificent production of Umberto Giordano’s Andrea Chénier  by David McVicar makes a hugely welcome return after its first staging in January 2015. Set and costume designs by Robert Jones and Jenny Tiramani, beautifully lit by Adam Silverman, fully capture the essence of the times, from the beginnings of the French Revolution in 1789 to the height of the Reign of Terror when the young poet, and supporter of the Revolution, André Chénier was executed on 25 July 1794.

The first act shows the luxurious home of Chateau de Coigny where Chénier performs for the guests, before the butler Gérard throws off his uniform in disgust at the opulent world surrounding him. In the final act we see Chénier’s last moments with Maddalena de Coigny as the tumbril awaits to take them both to the guillotine, after she has exchanged her life with another woman in order to die beside him. It’s a superb libretto penned by Luigi Illica  (1857–1919), who took care over numerous accurate and telling details, and the terrific music by the 28-year-old Umberto Giordano (1867–1948) included various authentic tunes of the time. A thrillingly Italian take on the French Revolution and its aftermath, all under the sensitive baton of Daniel Oren.

This time around, Roberto Alagna took the title role, marking his 100th performance with the Royal Opera, but his voice has sadly lost some of its bloom and in Acts I and II he seemed to be forcing it, though the duets with American soprano Sondra Radvanovsky were excellent. She made a superb Maddalena and her Act III La mamma morta – recalling how her mother was murdered at the doorway to her room – lit up the stage with emotional passion. It generated thunderous applause, as there had been shortly before for Dmitri Platanias as Gérard, in his cri de coeur against the wrong turn the Revolution is taking in condemning to death a man like Chénier on trumped up charges. He recalls his original dreams to awaken men’s hearts, eliminate the tears of the downtrodden . . . transform men into gods, and in un sol bacio e abbracio tutte le genti amar (in a single kiss and embrace, to love all of mankind). This and La mamma morta were seriously great moments in Act III, preceded by Elena Zilio’s terrific cameo as Madelon. She has given up her sons to the Revolution and now yields her teenage grandson to fight and to die for France — she was electrifying.

Altogether a superb performance with a very strong cast, including Christine Rice as Maddalena’s maid, Carlo Bosi in a well-drawn portrayal of The Incredible (one of the Revolution’s later Incroyables), and Rosalind Plowright as the Countess di Coigny. She was singing on the eve of her 70th birthday, having sung the youthful role of Maddalena at Covent Garden in 1984.

Andrea Chénier, Royal Opera, Covent Garden. Continues with the same cast until June 9 — details here.

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