23 Aug 2005

GIORDANO: Andrea Chénier

Carlo Bergonzi never recorded the role commercially and he is obviously the " raison d'etre " of this set. Among collectors there are quite a lot of Met-performances circulating but none is in very good sound. These performances date from around 1960 during the tenor's heyday but even they prove that the role is not completely his best: part of the score lays a little too high for his tessitura and he misses the sheer power to overwhelm us in some of the arias. This Venice-performance is in good sound and as the theatre is so much smaller than the Met maybe better suited for a role a shade too heavy for the voice. By 1972 too he knew much better where his strong points were and he fully exploits them. Time and again he makes a point by a diminuendo or a piano where Del Monaco and Corelli hector along. While the voice is slightly less beautiful than in the famous 1970-concert performance in London he succeeds in giving us a truly fine " Come un bel di di maggio "; the only piece Luigi Illica culled from the poems of Andre Chenier himself. In London Bergonzi has to switch in a lower gear when he realizes he is not going to make it but in Venice the voice is at its best in the fourth act. There are some fascinating glimpses of the tenor's experienced singing. When in his second act monologue he gets before the beat, he simply introduces a little sob and stage and pit are once on the same wave length. In that terrible first act monologue " Colpito qui m'avete " he has given so much breath in getting to the top in the first verse, that during the second verse he starts declaiming instead of singing though he does that with such skill and conviction that most people in the audience probably thought of it as an interpretative trick. A live audience probably didn't notice the appearance of the weak link in late Bergonzi's vocal armour: a gliding towards a fortissimo note from high A onwards that would almost always result in flat singing above the staff from 1975 onwards.

Raina Kabaivanska is at her most luscious. The Bulgarian soprano combines an original somewhat Slav timbre with Italian style. She is not an easy somewhat lame victim in " La mamma morta ", who surrenders from despair a la Tebaldi but an iron willed lady who sings the aria as a kind of defiance. Subtle her interpretation is not and in decibels she gives tit for tat to the tenor and the baritone though there is never a hint of shrillness.

Aldo Protti is one of Italy's most underrated baritones. He was lambasted after his early Decca-recordings because he didn't bring Gobbi's subtle inflections in his interpretations of Rigoletto and Jago but he had a big healthy baritone voice that could easily fill any house. He was an extremely short man, with a barrel-like breast so that he looked almost as wide as he was tall. This probably didn't help him with some critics but the sound is exciting and well-modulated.

Conductor Paolo Peloso (a name new for me) knew his Giordano and he paces the performance excellently, giving his singers space to breath without overindulging them. All in all not the greatest _Chenier_ available but a worthy alternative if you happen to have a soft spot for one of the principals.

_Jan Neckers_