Andrea Chenier – Review – Leeds Grand
By Sandra Callard, January 2016
I am a great fan of popular classical opera, having seen most of the top ten more than once. So reviewing Umberto Giordano’s Andrea Chénier was a challenge for me. I had not seen it before. Indeed, had not heard of it before, although the composer was familiar to me. Performed by the wonderful Opera North at the Grand Theatre in Leeds, I went along with expectation and curiosity.
Based on an actual person, Andrea Cheniér was a poet in Paris during the French Revolution. The subsequent horrific events came to be known as The Terror. His initial support for the rebels faded as the unbridled Terror swept Paris. Eventually he was arrested and tried by the Revolutionary Tribunal.
This production, directed by Annabel Arden, has tenor Rafael Rojas as the eponymous hero. Rojas gives a powerful and moving performance as the stricken Chénier. Loving his country, hating the injustices, but appalled by the horrors that have been unleashed. His voice is strong and resonant, and his love duet with Maddalena di Coigny is truly beautiful. Maddalena is sung by Annemarie Kremer, who possesses a contralto voice of great clarity and depth, and it is a pleasant change to have a lower voiced female lead, rather than the usual soprano.
I was extremely impressed by the performance of Robert Hayward as the servant-turned-revolutionary. Not only by his excellent singing voice, but also by his acting ability. He is quite magnificent in his shame as he fails to win Maddalena’s love. His redemption as he refuses her offer to yield in exchange for Chénier’s release is moving.
I also liked Fiona Kimm in her two personae of the Countessa di Coigny with her wealth and bizarre fashion sense, and then as the blind Madelon during her fall into poverty after the Revolution. A stark and frightening performance which indicated that the Revolution initially merely changed who was poor, rather than eradicate it.
The production is visually dull, as expected by the opera theme. Grey chain hangings surround the stage. Apart from the opening scene of an aristocratic ball, the standard blue/grey garb of the citizens is dominant. The only flash of brightness comes from the tricolour of the French flag.
The costumes are baffling, in that there really are no costumes at all. Those in the opening scene of the ball could resemble 18th century dress, which then change to Victorian ball-gowns. Servants wear chain mail waistcoats reminiscent of medieval warfare. Otherwise it seems to be, whatever suits wear it. Even if in some cases this means modern trousers and boots. The authentic costumes of faded blue for the hoi polloi are good. But I spent too much time wondering about the costume choices than listening to the music.
The libretto for Andrea Chénier was by Luigi Illica, and Giordan contributed the score. But I am afraid that not one note of said score stayed with me as I left the theatre. Opera North and the orchestra played it to their usual outstanding capacity, and I have to say that an almost capacity audience were generous with their appreciation. But for me it somehow fell short of what I expect and enjoy from opera.