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Umberto GIORDANO (1867-1948)
Andrea Chénier (1896)
Andrea Chénier – Yusif Eyvazov
Maddalena di Coigny – Anna Netrebko
Carlo Gérard – Luca Salsi
Bersi – Annalisa Stroppa
Madelon – Judit Kutasi
Mario Martone (stage director)
Orchestra & Chorus of Teatro alla Scala/Riccardo Chailly
rec. live, December 2017, Teatro alla Scala, Milan
HD 16:9, PCM Stereo & DTS-MA 5.1; Regions A, B, C
C MAJOR Blu-ray 757404 [128 mins]

Let's not kid ourselves: despite the name of the opera, this is the Netrebko show. She is unquestionably the celebrity centre of attention here, and she utterly dominates every scene she is in. It’ll be up to you as to whether you think that’s a good thing or not. Be in no doubt, though: she has left all of her subtlety at home. She belts every note into the auditorium as though she were breathing fire, and eats alive both Gérard and Chénier in their duets. This can make for pretty exhilarating music-making, not least in La mamma morta, which is, unsurprisingly, the highlight of her performance; and she is in very fine voice, with impressive chest notes as well as the characteristic creamy top.

It makes for pretty poor drama, though. She is totally unconvincing as the ingénue of Act 1, and her acting throughout is as statuesque as I’ve ever seen it. Even that, however, beats the performance of her husband, who acts with all the conviction of a flat-pack wardrobe. I can't imagine they engaged Yusif Eyvazov for any other reason than his attachment to Netrebko. His is definitely not the voice we've been waiting for in this repertoire. For one thing, it’s too light, with nary a hint of heroic thrill; and he gulps his way through the Improviso and warbles Come un bel dì with guttural top notes and strained phrasing. Both the love duets are, to put it mildly, a bit of a holler.

Luca Salsi’s Gérard has touch of gravel in the voice, but there's lyricism too, and he sings “Nemico della patria” very convincingly. The comprimario parts are very well done, though, with a sly Incredibile, a light-voiced Bersi and an impressive alto Madelon.

The orchestra sound sensational in the pit. Riccardo Chailly knows what he's doing in this music, and he totally gets both the exuberance of Act 2 and the elation of the final scene, whose closing chords should (and do) make the scalp prickle.

That’s not enough to redeem the whole performance, though, and it isn’t helped by Mario Martone’s fussy direction. He’s best known from the world of cinema, and he brings a level of stylised naturalism to the visual aspect. However, it’s full of odd touches like Mathieu’s rather naff delivery of the start of Act 3 to the audience in the auditorium, or the freeze-frame aristocratic salon of Act 1. Worse, Patrizia Carmine’s video direction is dreadful, with lots of distracting cutaways and overhead shots which give the strong impression that she hadn’t attended enough of the rehearsals.

As far as I can ascertain, this was the opening night of the La Scala season, that most glittering event in Milan’s society year, and the first track on the disc gives Chailly and the orchestra playing the Italian national anthem for the assembled dignitaries. No doubt it was a fun occasion to attend, but that doesn’t necessarily make it a good candidate for repeated viewing, and I won’t be going back to this disc again. If you want Andrea Chénier on film then look no further than Antonio Pappano’s 2015 performance from Covent Garden. It features Eva-Maria Westbroek ever-so-slightly past her prime, but Jonas Kaufmann and Željko Lučić triumphantly at the peak of theirs. Unlike this one, Pappano’s Andrea Chénier delivers on every front.

Simon Thompson

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