Saturday, July 09, 2011

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


The opening of Andrea Chénier: The Major-Domo directs party preparations (at Covent Garden, 1985), with the servant Carlo Gérard (Giorgio Zancanaro) looking on at right. We'll hear this bustling opening music in a moment, played two ways -- very perky and not so perky -- in a moment. (And we'll see this Covent Garden clip tomorrow.)

by Ken

There was a plan to this week's post which made sense in its way. Working up to one of the great tear-jerking scenes in Western theater, the Madelon scene of Act III of Giordano's Andrea Chénier, we were going to "preview" two of the high spots that pave the way to it: the very opening of the opera, with the baritone Gérard's great monologue; and Chénier himself's great Act I "Improvviso." Which would have meant either a pair of ginormous previews or the merest dabs at two of the most remarkable chunks of musical theater ever created.

So, on the theory that both Gérard's monologue and Chénier's "Improvviso" deserve posts of their own, they're going to get them. We'll simply proceed to the Madelon scene in, if not baby steps, then at least babier ones.

For starters, we're going to more or less literally raise the curtain. As regular readers know, we always like to know how a piece starts, and in the then-modern way, pioneered in Italian opera by Verdi in his last two operas, Otello (1887) and Falstaff (1893), and made standard practice by Puccini (whose first successful opera, Manon Lescaut had premiered in 1893, followed by La Bohème in February 1896, eight weeks before Chénier), Giordano plunges us into the action without a formal prelude.

This is obviously "bustling" music, which we're going to hear played two ways. First, Riccardo Chailly plays it for the "bustle." Then Marcello Viotti trusts that the bustle is built in and drives it less hard. This would probably be more effective in a more confident, knowing performance, but you get the the idea that Viotti is facing an orchestra doesn't really know the music, possibly having played no more than a single run-through.

GIORDANO: Andrea Chénier: Act I, Major-Domo, "Questo azzurro sofà"
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.
Neil Howlett (b), National Philharmonic Orchestra, Riccardo Chailly, cond. Decca, recorded August 1982 Michele Pertusi (bs), Major-Domo; Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra, Marcello Viotti, cond. Capriccio, recorded Aug. 30-Sept. 2, 1989



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