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Recordings

Umberto Giordano: Andrea Chénier
15 Nov 2006

GIORDANO: Andrea Chénier

A socially conscious artist, caught in the violent gyrations of a country in revolution and war, awaits execution.

Umberto Giordano: Andrea Chénier

José Cura, Maria Guleghina, Carlo Guelfi, Orchestra e Coro del Teatro Comunale di Bologna, Carlo Rizzi (cond.)

TDK DVWW-OPACH [DVD]

$26.99  Click to buy

He sings a passionate lament as he contemplates his approaching demise. Suddenly the woman he loves runs in, and a glorious duet in tribute to their love commences...though death awaits them both...

Tosca? No, Puccini's masterpiece lay a few years ahead. The above describes the brief final act of Umberto Giordani's Andrea Chenier, from a libretto by Luigi Illica (who would co-author the libretto for Tosca). Giordani's opera had a firmly held place in the repertory during much of the 20th century, but the last few decades have seen it lose its grip. The dramaturgy, it is true, can make Tosca seem like Harold Pinter. Nevertheless, the irresistibly melodic score offers fine showcases for a powerful triumvirate of tenor, soprano, and baritone, and so why not a wallow once in a while?.

This TDK DVD of a January 2006 performance features a cast about as good as our contemporary scene can offer. Carlo Guelfi, though without the beauty of a baritone such as Dmitiri Hvorostovsky, employs his dark sound to project the conflicted emotions of Carlo Gérard, the one-time servant who becomes a cynical force in the French revolution, all the while retaining a furtive desire for the beautiful aristocrat Maddalena di Coigny. That powerhouse Maria Guleghina does her best to tone down her innate strength, so that Maddalena's sensitivity can be felt. Almost girlish in the first act, frightened and desperate in the middle ones, and nobly passionate in the final, Guleghina succeeds, even though the sheer turbine power of her vocalism makes her "La momma morta" more a cry of anger than pain.

José Cura has the title role. As is typical of this handsome, masculine singer, he tends to let his looks serve as characterization. His throaty tenor will never make him universally loved, but he has the power and the high notes for roles such as Chenier. He and Guleghina, who have often sung together, make a formidable pair. Perhaps that is why director (and designer) Giancarlo del Monaco has the duo climb the outsized criss-cross bars of their prison cell at the opera's climax and reach out into space, rather than walk hand in hand toward the guillotine, as more common stagings end the show. Two indomitable singers aren't going out meekly.

Del Monaco's set and concept mix the traditional, especially in costuming, with modern stage craft. The shiny mirror-like walls of the first act encompass a bare stage. All the aristocrats wear grotesque make-up, an unsubtle touch that distances the viewer rather than supporting the drama. Transitions between acts and scenes, especially in the last half of the opera, occur seamlessly, allowing this somewhat fragmented drama to flow effectively.

Experienced conductor Carlo Rizzi provides his usual competent if not insightful reading, and the chorus and orchestra of the Teatro Comunale di Bologna follow him with idiomatic skill.

A very good performance then, if hardly a great one.

Chris Mullins

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