Sunday, July 31, 2011

Sunday Classics: The seething revolutionary rage of "Andrea Chénier" certainly strikes a chord at our present moment


Last night we heard two minutes' worth of Plácido Domingo singing the Improvviso. It seemed only fair to let him get through the whole thing.

by Ken

As I explained in last night's preview of Chénier's Improvviso, we're continuing the three-part series devoted to Giordano's best-known opera begun earlier this month with a post called "Giordano's Andrea Chénier and the class war that wrote the book on class warfare" (also with a Saturday preview), built on the premise -- well, my premise -- that Chénier is a great revolutionary opera. Our goal is to get to the great Madelon scene of Act III. (I know you may not know what a "Madelon scene" is, but I don't want to try to explain the scene until we get to it.)

It's true that eventually Giordano and librettist Luigi Illica (also one of Puccini's most important librettists) cared more about the doomed love of the anti-royalist poet Chénier and the aristocrat Maddalena di Coigny, and I don't have a huge problem with that, because that's interesting enough and occasioned a fair amount of swell music. But for me the opera sizzles when it focuses on the way its characters are caught up in the tide of revolution in France, starting -- literally starting -- the overwhelming opening scene in which the servant Carlo Gérard, observing his broken-down father still in service to the Contessa di Coigny, vents some volcanic rage that there's no escape from servitude not just for his father but for his father's children; they're a race of menials.

In that opening scene we saw Gérard occupied, along with all the other servants in the household, with preparations for a grand soirée at the Coigny home -- just as the French Revolution, as we learn, is about to break out. Later we see the Countess and her lovely, inquisitive daughter Maddalena engaged in final preparations for Maddalena, and then the guests arrive. At the party, one of the guests, a young poet, is going to be moved to share some recent experiences and observations that will scandalize everyone present except Gérard and Maddalena: the Improvviso we heard last night, which today we're going to put in context.

We're going to pick up as the arrival of the guests is well under way, a starting point that was determined by one of three recordings we're going to hear -- all that survives of the broadcast of a 1938 San Francisco performance -- once we've broken the scene down a little. It's actually not a bad starting point, though, as the Countess greets the first of her "special" guests.



. . . continues with previews and, and the main post "We do know that young Roger Alberto isn't coming back, don't we?We do know that young Roger Alberto isn't coming back, don't we?"

Labels: , ,


At 6:51 PM, Anonymous Barry Brenesal said...

Fine opera, Ken. I've always thought that Puccini was good but over-rated (I suspect you disagree with me on that) and that Giordano had a more to offer than he's given credit for.

See if you can find Bernardo de Muro in Chenier's act I solo. It's electrifying. The guy stood 5' tall, but he had a huuuge voice. When he became the toast of Rio and was going to move on to another city, the opera-crazed inhabitants addressed him with, "Addio, Fenomeno." Or at least, that's what Tom Heyward, his student, used to tell me.

At 9:18 PM, Blogger KenInNY said...

My roster of tenors is pretty broad, Barry, but I have to say that de Muro is mostly just a name to me. I'll have to check him out. (As I mentioned, my recordings choices for the Improvviso were limited to my CD holdings. My serious vocal collection is mostly on LP.)

Thanks for your thoughts.



Post a Comment

<< Home