Giordano's Andrea Chénier at the Royal Opera House
Giordano's masterwork, with Roberto Alagna in the title role as the heroic poet who gave his life during the French Revolution. Daniel Oren conducts the Royal Opera House Orchestra and Chorus.
A gigantic verismo opera and Giordano's most accomplished work, recorded earlier this month at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, with the tenor Roberto Alagna in the title role of Andrea Chénier, inspired in the heroic poet who gave his life during the French Revolution. The soprano Sondra Radvanovsky is Maddalena de Coigny, an aristocratic lady and Chénier's love interest in this melodramatic tale of ill-fated romance and tragedy. Daniel Oren conducts the ROH orchestra and chorus.
Presented by James Naughtie.
Andrea Chénier ..... Roberto Alagna (tenor)
Maddalena de Coigny ..... Sondra Radvanovsky (soprano)
Carlo Gerard ..... Dimitri Platanias (baritone)
Bersi ..... Christine Rice (mezzo-soprano)
Countess di Coigny ..... Rosalind Plowright (soprano)
Master of the Household ..... John Cunningham (bass baritone)
Pietro Fleville ..... Stephen Gadd (bass)
Abbé ..... Aled Hall (tenor)
Mathieu ..... Adrian Clarke (baritone)
The Incredible ..... Carlo Bosi (tenor)
Roucher ..... David Stout (baritone)
Madelon ..... Elena Zilio (mezzo-soprano)
Dumas ..... German E Alacantara (baritone)
Schmidt ..... Jeremy White (bass)
Royal Opera House Chorus
Royal Opera House Orchestra
Daniel Oren (conductor)
Full synopsis available on the programme page
Photo credit: Catherine Ashmore
The Winter Garden at the Château
The Contessa di Coigny is about to host an elaborate party. One of her footmen, Carlo Gerard, watches with pity as his elderly father, a gardener at the chateau, struggles to help with the preparations.Gerard 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 companion Bersi, and gives copious orders to the servants. Gerard, who has been secretly in love with Maddalena since they were children, watches resentfully.
The guests arrive. They include the writer Pietro Fleville, who has brought with him two proteges, the poet Andrea Chenier and the musician Filandro Fiorinelli. The Contessa’s Abbe arrives with the latest news from Paris. The guests are alarmed by his tales of political unrest in the capital. Fleville attempts to distract them with the entertainment he has organized for the evening, a pastoral idyll. The Contessa asks Chenier to recite a poem but he declines, much to her annoyance. At Maddalena’s provoking insistence, Chenier 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 all’azzurro spazio). Moved and shamed, Maddalena asks to be excused and rushes from the room. The Contessa’s guests are appalled by Chenier’s words. Chenier leaves. Gerard, 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 chateau. Gerard flings open the windows to let the starving peasants in. The Contessa orders the footmen to throw them out. Gerard 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. Chenier 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 Chenier’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 Chenier closely. Chenier’s friend Roucher arrives with a passport he has procured for him. Initially a leading figure of the Revolution, Chenier has fallen from favour, as an outspoken critic of the Jacobins. Roucher advises him to leave France as soon as possible. Chenier 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. Gerard, 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 Gerard 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 Chenier 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 Chenier approaches her. It is Maddalena. Hidden for months by Bersi, she has written to Chenier in the desperate hope that he remembers her and will offer her his protection. Chenier has never forgotten the young woman at the Chateau Coigny. They realize that they love each other (Ecco l’altare). The couple are suddenly surprised by Gerard and the Incredibile. Roucher drags Maddalena away to safety and Chenier draws his sword. He fights and wounds Gerard. Recognizing the poet whose words inspired him five years earlier, Gerard warns Chenier to flee with Maddalena; Chenier’s name is on the
list of the Public Prosecutor, Fouquier- Tinville. When the sans-culottes arrive, Gerard says he does not know who attacked him.
The Hall of the Revolutionary Tribunal, a few months later
Chenier 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. Gerard 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 Gerard that Chenier has been taken, hiding at a friend’s house in Passy. Outside, newspaper vendors are heard crying abroad the arrest of the poet Andrea Chenier. The Incredibile is certain that Maddalena will be forced out of hiding and come to Gerard to try to save her lover. Despite himself, Gerard is tasked with framing an indictment against the poet. He reflects bitterly on his hypocrisy in denouncing Chenier – 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 Chenier’s life. Gerard confesses his uncontrollable passion for her. She offers herself to him in exchange for Chenier’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 chateau and how Bersi hid her in Paris, taking to prostitution to support them both. Only Chenier’s love has sustained her, has given her the will to continue living (La mamma morta).
Gerard becomes master of himself again. He swears to do all he can to save Chenier, 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 Chenier, he demands to be heard (Si, fui soldato). Gerard 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 Gerard turns Chenier’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
Chenier is writing, Roucher at his side.Chenier 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. Gerard arrives with Maddalena.
She and Gerard bribe the gaoler, Schmidt, into letting her take the place of Idia Legray, condemned to die that morning alongside Chenier. Gerard bids her farewell and leaves to plead once more with Robespierre for the life of Chenier. Alone together, Chenier 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 and historical notes by