Opera + Classical Music Reviews

Andrea Chénier review – a night at the movies

11 June 2024

High Definition opera at 25 frames per second enjoyed in a better seat than the stalls at the ROH.

Andrea Chénier

Jonas Kaufmann & Ashley Riches (Photo: Marc Brenner)

Well, what a night. With Jonas Kaufmann back on absolutely sovereign form, shaking the chandeliers with his B-flats and caressing ‘Come un bel dì di maggio’ with that famous dulcet phrasing, and Antonio Pappano in the pit making Giordano’s overblown slice of verismo sound like Puccini, how could it be otherwise?

It was an emotional occasion, of course – for those of us watching in cinemas, it was the last of the Royal Opera’s most welcome season of screenings, and for everyone it was the final production of Pappano’s 22 year reign at Covent Garden. It was the perfect vehicle for cinema – most of us could have done without the gushing lady presenter’s commentary, but the chance to appreciate the singing close up was precious – and there were ovations at various points from our intimate cinema group in York’s City Screen Picturehouse.

David McVicar’s production has stood the test of time, and it has been crisply revived by Thomas Guthrie, our only quibble being with the ending, which was a rather bland walk off  instead of the near-hysterical abandon with which the lovers previously welcomed their impending demise. Robert Jones’ set designs and Jenny Tiramani’s costumes still provided a vivid sense of the glaring contrasts between the world of the aristocracy and that of the citizens, and McVicar’s attention to personenregie had been faithfully continued.

“It was an emotional occasion…”

Andrea Chénier

Sondra Radvanovsky & Amartuvshin Enkhbat (Photo: Marc Brenner)

It’s an opera with the kind of grand passions which can only be successful with three absolute belters in the main parts, and this production gives us that and more. After Kaufmann’s only intermittently glorious Werther in this house, it was a joy to hear him in wonderful voice throughout, phrasing with his familiar nuance as well as giving the grand climaxes their full due. He displays all of his character’s poetic sensibility and romantic heroism, and it’s difficult to imagine him bettered in this role.

He was superbly partnered by Sondra Radvanovsky’s Maddalena, perhaps not as sweetly girlish as Eva-Maria Westbroek in the 2015 staging, but matching Kaufmann in every anguished phrase, not to mention sheer volume. ‘La mamma morta’ almost brought the house down, and rightly so. Amartuvshin Enkhbat scored a huge success with his Gérard – it’s a gift of a role, not so taxing as that of Chénier but with one great showpiece aria, which he sang with such generous tone that one was reminded of Dmitri Hvorostovsky.

The supporting cast was full of fine cameos, chief amongst them Ashley Riches’ sensitive Rocher, Rosalind Plowright’s flustered Contessa, William Dazeley’s outstanding Fléville and Elena Zilio’s heartbreaking Madelon. Katia Ledoux was a warmly characterised and sweetly sung Bersi. William Spaulding had prepared the chorus with his accustomed genius for vocal blending as well as characterisation, and Peter Jones’ screen direction was spot on.

Antonio Pappano clearly loves this score, and his affection for it was evident in every bar. The orchestra played superbly for him, teasing out the contrasts in Giordano’s sometimes unsubtle work and relishing the passion, grandeur and sheer ‘sweep’ of the music. If you didn’t make it to this showing, there are ‘encores’ in most venues – it’s not to be missed for anyone who wants an operatic experience with all the trimmings.

• Details of upcoming screenings can be found here.

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