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Giordano, Andrea Chenier: Soloists, Orquesta Sinfónica de Madrid. Coro Intermezzo.Conductor: Víctor Pablo Pérez. Teatro Real de Madrid. 18/19.2.2010 (JMI)

: Opéra National de Paris.


Direction: Giancarlo del Monaco.

Sets: Carlo Centolavigna.

Costumes: María Filippi.

Lighting: Wolfgang Von Zoubek.


Andrea Chenier: Marcelo Álvarez/Fabio Armiliato.

Maddalena di Coigny: Fiorenza Cedolins/Daniela Dessì.

Carlo Gerard: Marco Vratogna/Marco di Felice.

Bersi: Marina Rodríguez-Cusí.

Madelon: Larissa Diadkova.

L’Incredibile: Carlo Bosi.

Roucher: Felipe Bou.

Contesa di Coigny: Stefania Toczyska.

Mathieu: Luis Cansino.

Fleville/Fouquier-Tinville: Marco Moncloa.

L’Abate: Ángel Rodríguez.

Schmidt: Karoly Szemeredy.

Majordomo: Pablo García.

Dumas: Tomeu Bibiloni.

Production Picture © Javier del Real

Among the ten operas by Umberto Giordano, Andrea Chenier is number one in the popularity stakes but it’s one of those curious things that while Chenier always had the appreciation of opera-goers, musicologists have never showed it much enthusiasm. With precious few exceptions this is something of a pattern in Verismo. The major exception is Puccini whose attachment to so-called Verismo is more than debatable.

Andrea Chenier
’s following among opera-lovers has not been matched by interest from artistic directors. Take Madrid for example: Chenier has not put in an appearance in the last 25 years. In this regard it is interesting to read the Giancarlo del Monaco interview in the programme, where he talks of his experience in the 1950s at La Scala with a double cast: Mario del Monaco and Maria Callas, on the one hand, and Franco Corelli with Renata Tebaldi, on the other. “Tal dei tempi è il costume " (Carlo Gerard dixit).

The production comes from the Opéra National de Paris, where it was premiered last December. Giancarlo del Monaco’s reading stays absolutely faithful to the libretto which specifies perfectly where and when the action takes place. The sets are spectacular in the scene in the Countess’s mansion. They show a very rich Rococo salon with a small theatre at the back of the stage. The trial scene is truly spectacular. There are excellent costumes, especially in the first scene with hosts and guests suitably bewigged. Lighting is a good complement to the production.

Everything compares favourably with what happened a few days back with Un Ballo in Maschera in Bilbao, where the production took a similar line but to lesser effect. The stage direction of Giancarlo del Monaco is quite good with an excellent sense of mass movement and very good attention to detail.

It was interesting to see the killing of Bersi by Il Incredibile on stage at the end of Act II, or the old Madelon and her grandson walking with the mob in the same act. It’s a brilliant production, and the audience was obviously pleased. Its biggest drawback is that the change of sets demands very long intermissions. Andrea Chenier has about two hours of music but the evening ran to three hours and 15 minutes. According to my information this was not the case at Paris Bastille.

It was a surprise to see Victor Pablo Perez announced as conductor, since I cannot recall any previous experience of him in verismo. He drew an excellent performance from the orchestra. His reading was better than merely score-correct though there were some problems with excessive volume, particularly in the second act. That was more evident in the first cast.

We all know that the key for Andrea Chenier is to have three great voices, which today are almost impossible to find. It is not easy to offer something better than what we got, although unfortunately there were some mishaps. The performance of Argentinean tenor Marcelo Alvarez as protagonist was in doubt up to the last minute due to illness. His substitute was by Jorge de Leon who is reported to have brought off major triumphs elsewhere, according to most reviewers. Alvarez did however attend in the end.

Alvarez’s Chenier first saw light of day last December in Paris in this same production. He has one of the most beautiful tenor voices around and is a great singer, very expressive and with perfect Italian diction. He is one of those rare singers who leaves you understanding every single word. His eminently lyric voice is not what one immediately expects of a Chenier. His Chenier leans more towards Gigli than Del Monaco or Corelli, or even Domingo or Carreras. After a bright first half with an excellent Improvviso and a beautiful “Possanza Arcana”, followed by a very good duet with Maddalena, his performance suffered a little either because he was not fully recovered or because the role is too heavy for him. He was good though not at his best, in “Sì, fui soldato”, and rather disappointing in "Come un bel dì di Maggio". I prefer a more spinto voice over a lyric one, although it is always a pleasure to watch a true singer in the part. And Marcelo Alvarez is a great singer.

In the alternative cast the protagonist was Fabio Armiliato. There is no question but that he is one of the best Cheniers of recent years. He sang the Improvviso with his customary generosity although the voice did not evince quite the brightness of previous occasions. Singing "Credo in una possanza arcane” he almost lost his voice. He finished his duet with Maddalena as best he could and left everyone wondering whether he would be able to continue. However he sang the rest of the opera, with the voice back, at least partially, although he was in serious trouble more than once. I don't know what happened to him, but it is the second time that I have witnessed the same problem after his Improvviso; the first occasion was in a concert in San Sebastian, August 2009. What happened to him? I don't know, but I can assure you that there were no signs of vocal problems when the opera started.

Fiorenza Cedolins was not a convincing Maddalena di Coigny. The character is too heavy for her today, showing up inequalities of register and a voice too small for the role’s demands. Technically she is much better than proficient, but sadly she did not move me at all. The signs for the future are not good. Daniela Dessì was the alternate Maddalena. Her middle register has widened of late and she is now well suited to the character. Her bel canto extraction is always present in her singing and only the top of her register is below par. Even so, she was excellent in “La Mamma morta”.

Marco Vratogna was Carlo Gerard who offered his well known virtues and defects. Among the first it should be noted that his voice is well suited to the role. He’s a dramatic baritone singing always with unwavering concentration. Among his flaws, the biggest is that the voice is mediocre and not really up to the demands of a prestige opera-house.  Marco Di Felice is a good baritone who can work in more lyrical roles; here he is too light. His voice lacks the requisite volume and colour. He ends up straining for effect. Roberto Frontali was his substitute but he is also a rather flawed Gerard.

The supporting roles were very well covered. The best among these was Larissa Diadkova as Madelón, a real luxury. Marina Rodríguez-Cusí made a correct Bersí, rather tight in the upper register. Felipe Bou was a good Roucher. Veteran mezzo-soprano Stefania Toczyska proved a good Countess di Coigny. Carlo Bosi was a better than competent singing actor as Incredibile. Luis Cansino offered a powerful and very pleasant voice as Mathieu and he looks to have a bright future.

There was a full house for both days. At the final bows the biggest ovations were for Álvarez. Both Maddalenas were warmly received, particularly Dessì but Armilato had to put up with some isolated booing. Víctor Pablo Pérez had a mixed reception on the first night, while there was no booing the second evening.


José M Irurzun


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