Opera + Classical Music Reviews

Andrea Chénier review – Pappano bids adieu to The Royal Opera

30 May 2024

A stellar cast delivers the goods in Giordano’s French revolution verismo potboiler.

Andrea Chénier

Amartuvshin Enkhbat & Jonas Kaufmann (Photo: Marc Brenner)

The time has finally come. The Royal Opera’s longest serving music director, Antonio Pappano, is off after a staggering 22 years at the helm. There have been many highs, and remarkably few lows, during his tenure on Bow Street, which is why it’s a bit of a puzzle he chose Giordano’s second rate, B-list opera as his swansong. Lacking the emotional punch of Puccini, Giordano’s take on the French Revolution serves up a score lacking in originality, which fails to engage on any serious dramatic level either. This was my first encounter with the opera, and although well sung, faultlessly conducted, and superbly played by an orchestra at the top of its game, firing on all cylinders, it’ll go down on my ‘once-only, never again list’.

Anyone who believes in opera as a life changing, dramatically alert art form should look away now. This was opera by numbers, designed purely as a star vehicle for its three leading characters, but at least The Royal Opera had cast these at an exalted level, even if only one of them consistently provided the vocal fireworks required to rivet the attention. As Gérard, the nobleman who discards his fancy attire and gentrified life, for a more down and dirty existence manning the barricades with a gaggle of revolutionary peasants, Amartuvshin Enkhbat gave a career-defining performance. His richy coloured baritone voice is a thing of wonder. Evenly produced throughout the range, complete with long-breathed phrases, he produced some of the most honeyed, yet authoritative singing this stage has seen in quite a while. His pitch-perfect rendition of ‘Nemico della patria’ had the audience enthralled, and rightly won him an ovation. Indeed, at the final curtain it was clear who the audience’s favourite was – and rightly so.

“This was opera by numbers, designed purely as a star vehicle for its three leading characters…”

Andrea Chénier

Amartuvshin Enkhbat & Sondra Radvanovsky (Photo: Marc Brenner)

Sondra Radvanovsky (Maddalena di Coigny) and Jonas Kaufmann (Chénier), both returning to their respective roles here, certainly displayed musicianship and much of their singing was exciting, but neither matched Enkhbat’s stellar performance. Intonation problems, and occasional brittle tone, hampered Radvanovsky in the first act, but she rallied to deliver an impassioned ‘La mamma morta’ that really tugged at the heartstrings. Similarly, Kaufmann’s top notes lacked bloom, and at times you could tell he was treading cautiously, but as the evening progressed he gained in authority, and his singing took on that diamante quality that I remember so well from when he was at the peak of his powers – his big showpiece aria, ‘Si, fui soldato’ was shattering.

The ensemble cast was without fault, complete with especially vivid cameos from the 83 year old Elena Zilio as Madelon, her voice still a force of nature, and Rosalind Plowright’s imperious Contessa di Coigny. Newcomer Katia Ledoux made a highly auspicious house debut as Bersi, Maddalena’s confidante, displaying a rich, voluminous mezzo – she is plainly destined for greater things.

David McVicar’s staging was new in 2015, but given its ultra-traditional look, in Robert Jones’ period designs, could easily have been around for much longer. Pappano certainly believes in this score, as he conducted like a man possessed, even if that enthusiasm did lead to the orchestra drowning out the singers on occasion. As mentioned above, the orchestral playing was superb. Andrea Chénier certainly isn’t top drawer stuff, but it’s hard to imagine a more committed and sincere advocate for the work than Pappano. He’ll be missed.

• Details of upcoming performances can be found here.

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