Thursday - BBC Music Day Opera Matinee: Giordano's Andrea Chenier
Penny Gore presents a performance of Giordano's opera Andrea Chenier given at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden. Starring tenor Jonas Kaufmann and soprano Eva-Maria Westbroek.
As part of BBC Music Day, Afternoon on 3 celebrates The Power of Music with what some say is the most powerful musical experience of all - opera! Soaring voices and a plot with love, revolution and death keep us at the edge of our seats as Penny Gore introduces Umberto Giordano's Andrea Chénier in David McVicar's 2015 production from the Royal Opera House Covent Garden. With tenor Jonas Kaufmann in the title role and soprano Eva-Maria Westbroek as Maddalena de Coigny, conducted by Antonio Pappano. Giordano's melodramatic story is a passionate tale of the ill-fated love of a dashing poet and an aristocratic lady, set against the backdrop of the French Revolution. It is based loosely on the life of the French poet, André Chénier, who was executed during the French Revolution. Giordano wrote some of his best music for the lead tenor, which is a role that has been tackled by some of the world's greatest tenors.
Giordano: Andrea Chénier
Andrea Chénier ..... Jonas Kaufmann (tenor)
Maddalena de Coigny ..... Eva-Maria Westbroek (soprano)
Carlo Gerard ..... Zeljko Lucic (Baritone)
Bersi ..... Denyce Graves (mezzo-soprano)
Madelon ..... Elena Zilio (mezzo-soprano)
Contessa de Coigny ..... Rosalind Plowright (soprano)
Roucher ..... Roland Wood (baritone)
Pietro Fléville ..... Peter Coleman-Wright (baritone)
Fouquier Tinville ..... Eddie Wade (baritone)
Mathieu ..... Adrian Clarke (baritone)
Un incredible ..... Carlo Bosi (tenor)
Abbé ..... Peter Hoare (tenor)
Schmidt ..... Jeremy White (bass)
Major Domo ..... John Cunningham (bass-baritone)
Dumas ..... Yuriy Yurchuk (bass-baritone)
Royal Opera House Orchestra
Royal Opera House Chorus
Antonio Pappano (Conductor).
The Winter Garden at the Château Coigny, 1789
The Contessa di Coigny is about to host an elaborate party. One of her footmen, Carlo Gérard, watches with pity as his elderly father, a gardener at the château, struggles to help with the preparations. Gérard is disgusted at the idleness of the aristocracy and looks forward to the imminent destruction of their privileged lives (T’odio, casa dorata!). The Contessa enters with her daughter Maddalena and Maddelena’s mulatto companion Bersi, and gives copious orders to the servants. Gérard, who has been secretly in love with Maddalena since they were children, watches resentfully.
The guests arrive. They include the writer Pietro Fléville, who has brought with him two protégés, the poet Andrea Chénier and the musician Flando Fiorinelli. The Contessa’s Abbé arrives with the latest news from Paris. The guests are alarmed by his tales of political unrest in the capital. Fléville attempts to distract them with the entertainment he has organized for the evening, a pastoral idyll. The Contessa asks Chénier to recite a poem but he declines, much to her annoyance. At Maddalena’s provoking insistence, Chénier improvises some verses. His theme is the delineation of ‘love’. He contrasts his feelings of patriotic love for France with the idle indifference of the aristocracy and church to the sufferings of its people (Un dì, al azzurro spazio). Moved and shamed, Maddalena asks to be excused and rushes from the room. The Contessa’s guests are appalled by Chénier’s words. Chénier leaves. Gérard, who has listened intently, remains in a state of high emotion.
Musicians strike up a gavotte and the Contessa invites her guests to dance. The angry voices of a mob are suddenly heard outside, approaching the château. Gérard flings open the windows to let the starving peasants in. The Contessa orders the footmen to throw them out. Gérard defies her, throwing off his servant’s livery, and leaves with his father and the crowd. The Contessa is shaken but commands that the party continue.
The Café Hottot, by the Perronet Bridge, Paris. 1794
France has been in the throes of Revolution for five years. The King and Queen have been executed and the government, dominated by Robespierre’s Jacobin party, have imposed ‘The Terror’. Show-trials and executions take place daily. Chénier is seated at a table, writing. Mathieu, a sans-culotte, is busily attending to an altar celebrating the Revolutionary martyr Marat. Bersi, now a merveilleuse, is also there, closely observed by the Incredibile (an incroyable), a Jacobin spy who notes with interest her attempts to catch Chénier’s attention. Confronting him, she declares herself a patriotic daughter of the Revolution, but the Incredibile is suspicious of her connection to a mysterious fair-haired woman he is searching for. He resolves to watch her and Chénier closely.
Chénier’s friend Roucher arrives with a passport he has procured for him. Initially a leading figure of the Revolution, Chénier has fallen from favour, as an outspoken critic of the Jacobins. Roucher advises him to leave France as soon as possible. Chénier is reluctant; he is intrigued by a series of ardent letters he has received from a mysterious woman, who signs herself only with the single word ‘Hope’. Roucher deciphers the letters as the work of a merveilleuse and advises his friend to give them no more thought.
A crowd gathers to see the Representatives of the National Convention process by, led by Robespierre himself. Gérard, having prospered in the Revolution, is now a popular Jacobin and is acclaimed by the people as he enters. The Incredibile draws him aside; it is Gérard who has set him the task of finding the fair woman he suspects to be associated with Bersi. The Incredibile promises to track her down by nightfall.
Bersi returns with a group of merveilleuses and tells Chénier that ‘Hope’ will come to meet him that evening by the altar of Marat. Roucher says he will keep watch during the assignation. All the while, the Incredibile is listening and observing. As darkness falls, the mysterious woman appears and Chénier approaches her. It is Maddalena. Hidden for months by Bersi, she has written to Chénier in the desperate hope that he remembers her and will offer her his protection. Chénier has never forgotten the young woman at the Château Coigny. They realize that they love each other (Ecco l’altare).
The couple are suddenly surprised by Gérard and the Incredibile. Roucher drags Maddalena away to safety and Chénier draws his sword. He fights and wounds Gérard. Recognizing the poet whose words inspired him five years earlier, Gérard warns Chénier to flee with Maddalena; Chénier’s name is on the list of the Public Prosecutor, Fouquier- Tinville. When the sans-culottes arrive, Gérard says he does not know who attacked him.
The Hall of the Revolutionary Tribunal, a few months later.
Chénier and Maddalena have fled Paris and are in hiding. Mathieu attempts to stir up support for the Revolutionary cause: France is in danger, threatened by foreign invasion and internal rebellion. But the listening crowd is silent and sullen. Gérard arrives, recovered from his wounds, and stirs the people with an impassioned plea. He directs the women of France to offer their sons and jewels to the Revolution. A blind old woman, Madelon, comes forward. She has lost both her son and eldest grandson, fighting for their country, and now offers her youngest grandson, all that remains of her family, in their place. The crowd are moved and give whatever money and jewellery they can before filing out.
The Incredibile has not given up his pursuit of Maddalena and he now arrives to tell Gérard that Chénier has been taken, hiding at a friend’s house in Passy. Outside, newspaper vendors are heard crying abroad the arrest of the poet Andrea Chénier. The Incredibile is certain that Maddalena will be forced out of hiding and come to Gérard to try to save her lover. Despite himself, Gérard is tasked with framing an indictment against the poet. He reflects bitterly on his hypocrisy in denouncing Chénier – once the servant of the aristocracy, he has become the slave of his own passions (Nemico della patria?).
Just as the Incredibile predicted, Maddalena comes to plead for Chénier’s life. Gérard confesses his uncontrollable passion for her. She offers herself to him in exchange for Chénier’s freedom. She recalls the terrible death of her mother the Contessa, butchered by the mob before her eyes. She remembers fleeing with Bersi from the blazing château and how Bersi hid her in Paris, taking to prostitution to support them both. Only Chénier’s love has sustained her, has given her the will to continue living (La mamma morta).
Gérard becomes master of himself again. He swears to do all he can to save Chénier, as the public now swarms into the hall for the latest show-trial. Three defendants, including a young mother, Idia Legray, are quickly dealt with, but when Fouquier-Tinville reads out the indictment against Chénier, he demands to be heard (Si, fui soldato). Gérard comes forward as a witness and repudiates his own accusations. But the mob turn against their erstwhile hero and howl him down. The jury quickly deliberate and return their verdict.
As Gérard turns Chénier’s face so that he may see Maddalena once again in the public gallery, the court condemns him to be guillotined.
The courtyard of the St Lazare Prison, the next morning, before dawn Chénier is writing, Roucher at his side. Chénier reads his final poem to Roucher (Come un bel dì di maggio), comparing the sunset of his life to the end of a fine spring day. Moved, Roucher embraces his friend and leaves with the verses in his hand. Gérard arrives with Maddalena.
She and Gérard bribe the gaoler, Schmidt, into letting her take the place of Idia Legray, condemned to die that morning alongside Chénier. Gérard bids her farewell and leaves to plead once more with Robespierre for the life of Chénier. Alone together, Chénier and Maddalena jubilantly and fearlessly prepare for death. The dawn rises with no word from Robespierre. The lovers go to the guillotine (Vicino a te s’acqueta).
Synopsis by David McVicar