Umberto Giordano, libretto by Luigi Illica
Hungarian State Opera
Erkel Theatre, Budapest
Umberto Giordano’s Andrea Chénier premièred at La Scala in Milan in 1896. The opera is set before and during the French Revolution and is based on historical fact.
Poet Andrea Chénier was arrested in 1774. His satirical poems and articles had infuriated Robespierre and the Jacobins. He was held for 140 days, tried on false charges of conspiracy and guillotined three days before the Reign of Terror ended.
Chénier was 31 years old. (“It is sweet to die young! It is sweet to render to God a life still full of illusions!”) Most of his finest poems were written whilst he was in prison. Three of the arias are based on his poems. His love affair with an aristocrat, Maddalena, is pure fiction.
Fabio Ceresa’s production, conducted by Balazs Kocsar, which premièred in Budapest in May 2021, is totally artificial. Ceresa prefers pretty tableaux to reality. A fortune has been spent on costumes.
The singers stand and sit around as if they are on a stage in an operetta. The trial scene is particularly unconvincing. It doesn’t feel like the French Revolution at all. There’s no danger, no fear, no excitement.
The score has an abundance of melody. Boldizsár László and Eszter Sümegi, as Chénier and Maddalena, sing about their love for each other (“Our death is the triumph of Love”) but, their actual performances do not have the unbridled passion this romantic drama requires.
Michele Kalmandy, who is cast as Gerard, the disaffected servant turned revolutionary, is a far better actor and his aria gets the loudest applause.
Andrea Chénier can be seen online on the OperaVision channel for free until the end of the year.
Reviewer: Robert Tanitch