Saturday, July 30, 2011

Sunday Classics preview: Is the moral of "Andrea Chénier" that poets make lousy party guests?


DG herewith shares two minutes' worth of Plácido Domingo singing the Improvviso from Andrea Chénier (at the Vienna State Opera, 1981, Nello Santi conducting) from its Domingo 70th-birthday audio-and-video sampler.

by Ken

A few weeks ago I began what I explained would eventually be three sets of posts devoted to Giordano's opera Andrea Chénier. In that first post, "Giordano's Andrea Chénier and the class war that wrote the book on class warfare" (with a Saturday preview), we looked at the opening scene given to Carlo Gérard, a servant in the household of the Contessa di Coigny immersed in preparations for a swanky soirée on, literally, the even of the French Revolution.) We're headed for the Madelon scene of Act III, but before we get there we have to consider the poet Chénier's arresting Improvviso (which refers both to its improvisatory quality and to its suddennesss and unexpectedness), which shocks the dickens out of most of the guests.

In tomorrow's post we're going to work our way through the scene that leads up to the Improvviso as well as hearing the scene in its entirety (several times, actually).

Tonight we're going to listen just to the Improvviso itself. For the sake of my sanity I limited myself to what I've got on CD, but I think we've got an interesting assortment of performances -- in terms of voice types, national origins (two Italians, two Canadians, and an Argentinian), personalities, and interpretive thoughts -- beginning with Enrico Caruso's only recording of it, made when the opera, which had its premiere in March 1896, was little more than a decade old. Don't worry about hearing a bunch of antique recordings. After the Caruso, we jump to 1958, and everything is in stereo. (Which reminds me, there's also some notable variety in the conducting and orchestral playing. Just listen to the way the veteran Tullio Serafin balances, and the Rome Opera Orchestra plays, the chord that launches the aria proper.)

Believe it or not, I really don't have anything else to say tonight. I'll let the performances speak for themselves, and the music too, of course.


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