Sunday, July 14

Andréa Chenier – Royal Opera House

David McVicar’s spectacular staging of Umberto Giordano’s epic verismo opera of revolution and forbidden love from 2015 is brought back to life by Revival Director Thomas Guthrie with the orchestra under the baton of Antonio Pappano in his last production as Music Director of The Royal Opera.

At a glittering party in 18th-century Paris there are distinctly two tiers of society on display from the lowly footman Gérard (Amartuvshin Enkhbat) who follows in the footsteps of his father who has been in service for sixty years, to the sumptuous host, Contessa di Coigny (Rosalind Plowright), whose daughter Maddalena (Sondra Radvanovsky) straddles both as she eschews the fancy dress and faux manners in favour of intellectual discussion, so when the poet Andréa Chenier (Jonas Kaufmann) delivers an impassioned denunciation of Louis XVI, there are more than just revolutionary sparks in the air.

Five years later, the Revolution has given way to the Terror, transforming the power balance between Chénier, Maddalena, and Gérard: who now is calling the shots in this love triangle?

Robert Jones’ set and Jenny Tiramani’s costume capture the richness of the ruling class in the opening act with strongly choreographed scenes from Andrew George and Revival Choreographer Agurtzane Arren, following which the brutal reversal of fortune is embodied in bold but blander settings in which a rich seam of colour flows as the downtrodden become the oppressor.

Photo: Marc Brenner

Kaufmann – who played the title role in 2015 – and Radvanovsky are two of operas greatest stars, but the obvious question was whether age – they are both in their mid-fifties – and the passage of time would take their toll on their performance and tone. Well, age also brings experience and nous and whilst the vocal timbre may strain in places, their overall performances were outstanding, with Kaufmann beautifully portraying Chénier’s poetic sensibility and moral purpose, whilst Radvanovsky shone brightly throughout as the heroine, with their final duet deservedly bringing the house down.

Yet in spite of this, the crowning glory belongs to Enkhbat whose beautiful vocal and subtly understated performance perfectly caught the suppressed emotion of the politically charged Gérard and whose own ovation matched that of his co-stars.

The cast was littered with strong performance but special mentions for James Cleverton’s Matthieu, Alexander Kravets’ The Incredible, and a rising star to watch out for with Katia Ledoux’s Bersi. The icing on the cake was drawn from two more experienced performers from Plowright’s Contessa bristling with entitlement through to Elena Zilio’s Madelon sacrificing her all for the revolutionary cause: bravo!

The final word though must go to Pappano who bows out as Music Director with this production after twenty-two years at the helm, during which time he has crafted the orchestra of The Royal Opera in its appreciation and expression of the Italian repertoire, with this wonderful interpretation of Giordano’s expansive score serving as a fitting conclusion. A great director and fine conductor, it’s pleasing to know that he will return in a visiting capacity to deliver the remainder of the Ring Cycle.

Reviewer: Mark Davoren

Reviewed: 11th June 2024

North West End UK Rating: 5