Sunday, August 21, 2011

Sunday Classics: "Andrea Chenier" (3) -- We do know that young Roger Alberto isn't coming back, don't we?


This is the veteran mezzo Larissa Diadkova (age 56) as Madelon at Madrid's Teatro Real, February 2010. I believe the Gérard is baritone Marco Vratogna; the conductor, Victor Pablo Pérez. (The staging, in a production that originated at Opéra Bastille, is by the noted Chénier's son Giancarlo del Monaco, an internationally known opera director.)
Several women in the crowd make offerings. Amid the din an old blind woman is heard urging the other women to make way. Accompanied by a 15-year-old boy she forces her way through the crowd.

MADELON: I am Old Madelon. My son is dead.
His name was Roger. He died in the taking
of the Bastille. His first son
at Valmy won promotion and death.
Another few days and I too will die.
[Pushing the boy forward]
He's the son of Roger. The last son.
The last drop of my old blood . . .
Take him!
Don't say that he's just a child!
He's strong . . . He can fight and die!
GÉRARD [after an officer of the National Guard has examined the eager boy and pronounced him eligible]:
We accept him. Tell me his name.
MADELON: Roger Alberto.
GÉRARD: He'll leave this very evening.
MADELON: My joy, farewell!
Take him away!
[Seeking helplessly around her as two National Guardsmen lead the boy away.]
Who'll give me his arm?
[She is led away by sympathetic onlookers. The deputies now remove the urn, the crowd thins out, the officer and the National Guard march away. MATHIEU starts to transform the hall into a court of justice, the Revolutionary Tribunal. Outside, the crowd begins dancing and singing the Carmagnole.]

by Ken

I've been building up so long now -- most recently in Friday night's and last night's previews -- to this confounded "Madelon scene" that I'm nearly paralyzed, and consider that the scene needs either no explanation or comment or more and better than I can supply. And in a late inspiration, I'm going to try it both ways. This week we'll mostly just listen to the scene. Then in the future (maybe next week, maybe not) we'll look more closely at the innards.

Either way, I know it's crucial to appreciate the context, especially since in my experience Americans tend not to be aware that almost immediately after overthrowing the monarchy the new revolutionary government in France found itself -- without any experience of governing, let alone raising or commanding an army -- having to defend the country against the combined forces of the remaining crowned heads of Europe, who were equally appalled by (a) the beheading of a king and (b) the even crazier notion of a social order built around "liberty, equality, and fraternity."

This is the appeal to which we've seen and heard the response in the video clip above.
GIORDANO: Andrea Chénier: Act III,
Gérard, "Lagrime e sangue dà la Francia! Udite!"

GÉRARD: France offers up blood and tears! Listen!
Laudun has hoisted
the white flag!
And the Vendée is in flames!
And Brittany threatens us!
And Austrians, and Prussians, and English -- and everyone
sink their armed fangs
into the breast of France!
We need blood and gold!
Women of France, give the
useless gold of your necklaces!
Give your sons to the great mother,
o you, French mothers!
[Carried away by GÉRARD's eloquence, several women come running forward and throw trinkets and coins in the urn.]

Several women in the crowd make offerings. Amid the din an old blind woman is heard urging the other women to make way. Accompanied by a 15-year-old boy she forces her way through the crowd.

Ettore Bastianini (b), Carlo Gérard; Hilde Konetzni (s), Madelon; Vienna State Opera Chorus and Orchestra, Lovro von Matačić, cond. Live performance, June 26, 1960

Heck, as far back as there have been autocracies, political and religious, this is what they do in the face of massing dissent: Crack down! Repress! By whatever means necessary, including where necessary invading. As a result, "free" France was fighting for its life, or at least the anti-royalist factions were. It was a great opportunity for supporters of the monarchy to wage civil war. The end result, of course, was to ensure the supremacy of the most extreme, violent, repressive elements within the French revolutionary leadership. Well done, crowned heads of Europe! Somehow they never took credit for this remarkable accomplishment. (In the year 2011, is any of this sounding familiar?)


To get back to our scene, the old woman who fights her way through the crowd will shortly announce herself as "Old Madelon" (as we've seen and heard in the video clip above), and this is indeed the "Madelon scene" I've been making such a fuss over. On the other side of the click-through, once we've plugged a small but important information gap left over from Act I, we're going to pick up at the point we left off in Act III, in this very same Vienna State Opera performance, with this rather unexpected singer we've already heard fleetingly as Madelon.



(1) The opening scene: Gérard's monologue

Main post (7/10/2011): "Giordano's Andrea Chénier and the class war that wrote the book on class warfare"
-- Leonard Warrren (Met 1957), Mario Sereni (1963 EMI recording), Ettore Bastianini (Vienna 1960), Bechi (1941 EMI recording)

Preview (7/9/2011): "Giordano's Andrea Chénier and the class war that wrote the book on class warfare "
-- Ettore Bastianini (Vienna 1960)
-- Giuseppe Taddei (RAI Milan, 1955)
-- Giorgio Zancanaro (1985 Covent Garden video and 1986 Sony/Hungaroton recording) et al.

(2) The scene that leads up to the Improvviso

Main post: "The seething revolutionary rage of Andrea Chénier certainly strikes a chord at our present moment"
Complete scene:
-- Beniamino Gigli et al. (San Francisco 1938)
-- Luciano Pavarotti et al. (1982-84 Decca recording)
-- Franco Corelli et al. (1963 EMI recording)
-- Mario del Monaco, Maria Callas, et al. (La Scala 1955)
Plus excerpts from Vienna 1960 (Kostas Paskalis as Fléville), Met 1957 (Richard Tucker et al.)

Preview (7/30/2011): "Is the moral of Andrea Chénier that poets make lousy party guests?"
-- studio recordings of the Improvviso by Enrico Caruso, Jon Vickers, Giuseppe di Stefano, Ben Heppner, José Cura (chosen on the basis of "what I've got on CD")

(3) The Madelon scene of Act III

Preview No. 1 (8/19/2011): "Preparing for the culmination of our "Andrea Chenier" series -- Recap No. 1, Gérard's monologue"
-- "Son sessant'anni" and "T'odio, casa dorata" sung by Riccardo Stracciari (1925)
-- complete scene with Ettore Bastianini and Renata Tebaldi (1957 Decca recording)

Preview No. 2 (8/20/2011): "Preparing for the culmination of our "Andrea Chenier" series -- Recap No. 2, Chénier's Improvviso"
-- the Improvviso sung by Aureliano Pertile (1927)
-- complete scene with Mario del Monaco, Renata Tebaldi, et al. (1957 Decca recording)

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