This film presentation by Palace Nova Cinemas of Andrea Chénier was captured live on 7 December 2017 December 2017 at Teatro alla Scala in Milan.
Bernard Shaw once quipped that opera is when a tenor and soprano want to make love, but are prevented from doing so by a baritone. That is the case in Andrea Chenier, but it’s only part of the story. A fine example of the Italian verismo operatic tradition, Andrea Chenier by Umberto Giordano is set in the dangerous days of the French Revolution and the ensuring reign of terror, and aspects of the story derive from fact. Andrea Chenier is a poet and a member of the upper echelons of French society, but his station in life does not prevent him from naming and shaming the gross inequities between the haves and have-nots that ultimately were at the heart fo the causes of the revolution. Chenier is smitten by the beautiful aristocrat Maddalena di Coigny, and so is her family’s servant Gérard, who also hates the privilege of the upper classes. In time Gérard becomes a significant authority in the French Revolution and improperly exercises his power to denounce Chénier, which can only mean one thing – an appointment with Madame Guillotine. Maddalena appeals to Gérard to do what he can to overturn the sentence and, in shades of Tosca, she is prepared to give herself to him if that is what it takes, and similarly to Tosca, it doesn’t end well.
In the title role Yusif Eyvazov is commanding. His ‘Un di all’azzuro spazio’ and ‘Come un bel dì di maggio’ were highlights, and conductor Riccardo Chailly allowed Eyvazov to rise above the orchestra. A conductor paying such respect to the soloists in an opera of this nature is vital. The music is fundamentally important, and in many respects is what we might nowadays label as ‘filmic’, but it is must remain a vehicle for the story to be played out through the voices of the soloists. The great Anna Netrebko sang the role of Maddalena and the audience barely took a breath during her strong and passionate rendition of “La mamma morta” (but for my taste Maria Callas sang the definitive version with all its rawness and naked emotion, which was featured to great effect in the 1993 film ‘Philadelphia’ starring Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington.)
Perhaps the starring performance was that by baritone Luca Salsi who sang Gérard. If conductor Chailly had allowed applause at the end of each aria (and I’m glad he didn’t, as it allowed the opera to flow and the drama to unfold without interruption), then Salsi’s ‘Nemico della patria’ would have been a show stopper.
The strong cast featured many impressive soloists, including Annalisa Stroppa in the role of Bersi, and Judit Kutasi as Madelon
The filming of the opera was strange at times, with many overhead shots that were ultimately a distraction, and in one scene, captured Salsi pretending to write in such an embarrassingly obvious way.
This is a strong production of an opera that is not stage anywhere near enough. Recommended.