Sunday, July 10, 2011

Sunday Classics: Giordano's "Andrea Chénier" and the class war that wrote the book on class warfare


Giorgio Zancanaro as Gérard at Covent Garden, with Julius Rudel conducting, 1985.

by Ken

In last night's preview I indicated that we're taking a slow journey toward the tear-jerker of all tear-jerker scenes, the Madelon scene of Act III of Giordano's Andrea Chénier, starting with the very opening of the opera and going up to, well, a particular point. We heard the bustle of the preparations for a grand party in the home of the Countess of Coigny, on the very eve of the French Revolution, including some of the ruminations of the household servant Carlo Gérard.

Here's what we've heard so far:

GIORDANO: Andrea Chénier: Act I, Gérard, "Compiacente a' colloqui" . . . "Son sessant'anni"
The country estate of the Coigny family. The winter garden, the grand conservatory.

The curtain rises on a scene bustling with activity. Servants, lackeys, valets, all under the command of an officious
MAJOR-DOMO, run hither and thither carrying pieces of furniture about and placing it down where he instructs them to. GÉRARD, in full livery, lends a hand in carrying a heavy blue sofa.

MAJOR-DOMO: This blue sofa, let's put it there.

GÉRARD and the lackeys obey his orders. Then the MAJOR-DOMO goes to another part of the château followed by all the servants. GÉRARD, left behind, kneels before the blue sofa, unruffling the fringe, smoothing the satin covering, and arranging the curtains.

GÉRARD: Obliging to the discourse
of the dandy
who offered his hand
to mature ladies here!
Here Red Heels
said sighing to the Beauty-patch:
"Orinthia, or Chloris, or Nike, powdered,
oldish and painted,
I long for you
and, only on this account, perhaps,
I love you!"
Such is the custom of the times.

An old man comes in from the garden carrying a heavy piece of furniture. GÉRARD throws down the duster he is holding and goes to help him. Weak and shaky, the old man leaves, disappearing through the garden. GÉRARD, much moved, watches him go.

GÉRARD: It's sixty years, old man,
that you've been a servant here!
On your insolent,
arrogant masters
you've lavished fidelity, sweat,
the strength of your nerves,
your soul, your mind . . .
and as if your own life didn't suffice
to carry on
the horrendous suffering,
you've given the existence
of your children . . .
[With immense disdain he strikes his breast with open hand, murmuring through tears]
You've fathered menials!
Louis Sgarro (bs), Major-Domo; Leonard Warren (b), Carlo Gérard; Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Fausto Cleva, cond. Live performance, Dec. 28, 1957

As I indicated, something extraordinarily dramatic is about to happen. Right after the click-through. (New genre, the click-hanger?)



. . . continue with (2) "The seething revolutionary rage of Andrea Chénier certainly strikes a chord at our present moment" and (3) "We do know that young Roger Alberto isn't coming back, don't we?" (You'll find links to the associated previews at the main posts.)

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