Andrea Chénier (Giordano, 1896) is unashamedly political. Set during the French Revolution, it begins with a disillusioned footman in the court of the Contessa di Coigny expressing his disgust at the idle, privileged aristocracy. The libretto is based on the real-life story of French poet André Chénier, who fell foul of Robespierre and was executed in 1794.
The curtain opens on a sumptuous set of gilt and glitter as servants prepare for the Contessa’s party. David McVicar’s production – in its first revival since its 2015 debut – is meticulously researched, allowing set designer Robert Jones and costume designer Jenny Tiramani to create authentic pieces that root this very traditional production firmly in its historical context.
The role of that footman, Carlo Gérard, is sung by Dimitri Platanias. His rich baritone is deep and powerful, expressing the emotion of Giordano’s glorious arias. Gérard’s journey is a complex one, from revolutionary hero to oppressor to would-be saviour and Platanias handles it well.
This is an opera of contrasts, which is ably demonstrated by Daniel Oren’s conducting. The music rises and falls, at one moment bright and tripping, the next passionate. The scenes contain moments of light and dark, joy and horror. This is most ably demonstrated in the character of Maddalena di Coigny. The daughter of the Contessa, she falls in love with Chénier. In Act I at the party she playfully teases her mother and then flirts with Chénier. Brought down by the revolution, however, she sings of her loss and makes the ultimate sacrifice for love.
The part is played by American-Canadian soprano Sondra Radvanovsky. She is superb in this demanding role, singing with clarity and emotion. In the heartwrenching ‘Vicino a te’, the final soprano-tenor duet for the two leads as they prepare to face the guillotine, her Maddalena eclipses Chenier.
And so to Chénier himself. It is no doubt fair to say that many – if not most – of the audience are here for Roberto Alagna in the title role. It marks his 100th performance at the Royal Opera and you can’t help but think he chose well. It’s a challenging part to which the 55-year-old rises with panache.
Andrea Chénier runs at the Royal Opera House until 9 June. See our Events pages for further details.
Sondra Radvanovsky as Maddalena di Coigny and Roberto Alagna as Andrea Chénier at the Royal Opera House (Catherine Ashmore).