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Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

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Umberto GIORDANO (1867–1948)
Andrea Chenier (1896)
José Cura (tenor) – Andrea Chenier; Maria Guleghina (soprano) – Maddalena di Coigny; Carlo Guelfi (baritone) – Carlo Gérard; Giacinta Nicotra (mezzo) – La mulatta Bersi; Cinzia De Mola (mezzo) – La Contessa di Coigny; Annie Vaville (mezzo) – Madelon; Carlo Cigni (baritone) – Roucher; Armando Ariostini (baritone) – Il romanziero; Giuseppe Guidi (bass) – Fouquier-Tinville; Mario Bellanova (baritone) – Il sanculotto Mathieu; Pierre Lefèbvre (tenor) – Un Incredibile; Stefano Pisani (tenor) – L’Abate; Atfeh Ziyan (bass) – Schmidt; Mauro Marchetto (bass) – Il Maestro di casa; Michele Castagnaro (bass) – Dumas
Orchestra e Coro del Teatro Comunale di Bologna/Carlo Rizzi
Directed for Stage by Giancarlo Del Monaco; Set and Costume Design Giancarlo Del Monaco; Choreography Astrid Ascarelli; Lighting Design Wolfgang von Zoubek; Directed for TV and Video by Paola Longobardo
rec. live, Teatro Comunale di Bologna, January 2006
Sound Formats DD 5.1 DTS 5.1 LPCM stereo; Picture Format 16:9; Region Code 0
TDK DVWW-OPACH [123:00]
 

This is not the only DVD version of what nowadays seems to be the only surviving Giordano opera – there is at least one with Domingo and Tomova-Sintow, which I haven’t seen, apart from a couple of snippets on a Domingo portrait DVD. In sound only format I have long treasured a Decca recording from the 1950s under Gavazzeni, more for Tebaldi’s deeply-felt Maddalena and Bastianini’s gloriously sung Carlo Gérard than for Mario Del Monaco’s unquestionably thrilling but stentorian Chenier. The best version – and I haven’t forgotten the Pavarotti/Caballé effort on a more modern Decca – is for my money the Levine RCA set from the 1970s with the glorious trio Domingo-Scotto-Milnes audibly inspired and involved.
 
The Chenier on this new set, filmed as recently as at the beginning of this year, José Cura, reminds me of Domingo, not only for his looks and natural stage appearance but also for the whole-hearted identification and the generous outpouring of golden tone. Domingo functioned as a mentor for Cura in the beginning of his career and was the conductor for what I believe was Cura’s debut recording, a thrilling Erato disc comprising every tenor aria Puccini ever wrote. Passion was a keyword for that disc and passion is what he emits in this role from the very first appearance, with a glowing Un di all’azzurro spazio. He sings the furious Si fu soldato in the trial scene (act III) with no safety net. The sad Come un bel di di maggio in the last act is begun almost as a dream, lightly sung with some embellishments to the line before he opens out to a heartfelt, glorious climax, greeted with ovations from the audience. By his side, just as in the La Scala Manon Lescaut, he has the charming, expressive, warm Maria Guleghina, whose vibrant voice is a perfect foil for Cura’s impassioned Chenier. She sings a deeply felt La mamma morta in act III, almost in the Tebaldi mould and both singers rise to ecstatic heights in the final scene. Carlo Guelfi as Carlo Gérard may pale a bit beside these two volcanoes but his is still an authoritative portrait of the servant-turned-revolutionary leader. Although a somewhat stiff actor he delivers an intensely captivating Nemico della patria in the third act. He also has the looks for the character, who seems to be a forerunner to Scarpia but with a heart.
 
Costumes and sets are period, all the nobles white-powdered and made-up, lending a feeling of authenticity to the proceedings. Some of the sets are more symbolic, especially the giant bars that are lowered when the death sentence of Chenier is being pronounced at the end of act III and which remains as the only prop – maybe it could be entitled front-drop – during the short final act.
 
There are several good actors and singers in the long list of secondary roles. There’s a lively Bersi, a powerful Roucher, an impressive Mathieu and a strong Madelon standing out. Carlo Rizzi draws impassioned playing from the orchestra and paces the drama convincingly. Not being musically on a par with Puccini’s contemporaneous creations this work has to rely even more on conviction from the performers. This rendering managed to get a firm hold on at least this viewer. The well-known set pieces naturally stand out from the surrounding music where some local colour is provided by the quotations from the Marseillaise.
 
With such obviously involved and visually engaging singing actors, the video director Paola Longobardo has wisely chosen to present many of the key moments in close-up, thus bringing the viewer palpably into the action. Sound and pictures are state-of-the-art and with 44 cue-points it is easy to pick and choose among one’s favourite moments. While I am not going to separate from the Gavazzeni and Levine sets, the present one will occupy a place of honour alongside the oldies and with the added visual impact it may often in the future be a first choice.
 
Göran Forsling
 

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