To quote Danton in Georg Büchner’s drama “Danton’s Tod” (1835): “Die Revolution ist wie Saturn, sie frisst ihre eigenen Kinder”, which translated means: “ The revolution is like Saturn, it eats its own children” and on this exactly is the focus of the whole opera. The opera is about the drop in social status of Andrea Chénier, an actual opponent of the aristocracy, who gets send to the guillotine, by a post-revolutionary government, who actually represented the same political opinion as Chénier. Andreas love to Magdalena, who came out of a noble family and his hostility to Carlo Chérard who became a high secretary of the government, led to the gruesome ending of the piece. Giordano’s’ 1896 opera, loosely based on the events that led to his execution, constitutes a demand for individualism that retains its clout: hearing it in the wake of the terrorist attacks all over the world is to be reminded once more of its relevance.
The roman opera succeeded in arranging the famous Italian movie maker Marco Bellocchio as the director for this opera. This was his first direction of an opera and he treated this art form, which was new for him with much respect. His stage designs as well as the costumes were very conventional. Everything was lovingly thought up to the smallest detail and I think, that was the reason that the staging wasn’t really convincing. By giving precise specifications to the singers Bellocchio did not allow them enough room for real emotion. Everything seemed a little affected and was not always very believable. In order to present a role believably a singer must be able to act and emphasize with his own character.
From the musical point of view it was a very emotional evening. The Orchestra dell’ Opera Roma under Roberto Abbado played Giordano’s unbelievable rich music with so much passion and energy. Abbado conducts the orchestra, as well as the phenomenal choir (rehearsed by Roberto Gabbiani) with such a feeling for rhythm, which is not very easy with Giordano’s rhythmically complex music. Dynamically alive to all what Giordano’s music offered the orchestra sound was rich and vivid.
The most amazing achievement of this evening was brought by Roberto Frontali. His astonishing voice filled the auditorium of the huge opera house and his mature voice had an impressive timbre. His big aria “Nemico della patria” in the third act was one of the highlights of the evening and was honored by the audience with thunderous applause.
At first Maria José Siri had a few problems with the acoustics but latest after the interval she managed to ignite the full capacity of her voice. “La mamma morta,” her biggest aria was produced with consummate evenness until her soprano soared to conquer the aria’s final B-natural—a note that gives most sopranos fits.
Gregory Kunde has a crystal clear head voice with an enormous power. Although, Kunde’s is not one of those voices that is produced without effort; his attempts to move from piano to forte were not always successful and he tended to sound better when singing at full throttle, he sang the role of Chénier with so much passion, which touched the audience very much.
Elena Zilio nearly stole the show with her breathtaking interpretation of the old Madelon. Anna Malavasi’s still young mezzosoprano already had enough maturity for the role of La Contessa di Coigny. Only Natascha Petrinsky (Bersi) with her rough voice was not really impressive this evening.
The audience thanked the whole ensemble with unusual long ovations at the end.
- Music by Umberto Giordano
- Libretto by Luigi Illica
- Director: Marco Bellocchio
- Cast: Gregory Kunde, Roberto Frontali, Maria José Siri, Natascha Petrinsky, Anna Malavasi
- Teatro dell' Opera di Roma, Rome
- Review by Fabio Andrea Rickenmann
- 23 April 2017