Andrea Chénier

At the Leeds Grand Theatre last night. An opera and a composer (Giordano) I knew nothing about. An opera about a guillotined revolutionary poet that manages to smuggle in a couple of mentions of Pitt doesn’t sound like a winner, but presumably no one goes to operas for the plots? It was supposed in its time (1896) to be opera verismo. Nevertheless, I was pretty much enthralled by it, and I have to say that it has the most stirring oh-death-where-is-thy-sting-a-ling ending since Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. I didn’t take enough tissues with me.

It was brilliantly staged – Gérard’s servant livery was more like chains, and the clank as he threw it down was like casting off shackles. The unstoppable aristocratic ball at the beginning emphasised that, despite the horrors that followed the French Revolution, the injustices and suffering that drove it at the start were unbearable. I found Gérard the most interesting figure: he tried to do a Scarpia but was too aware of the suffering and ironies of life to bring it off. As for the singing and orchestra – well, what do I know, but my ears were pleased.

There were no obvious present-day parallels in the production, but it’s hard not to see uniforms and informers/denouncers without thinking of 20th century history. And with so much frenzy and blood-spilling in a perverted “glorious” cause, it’s also hard not to think of Isis. Incroyables and Merveilleuses – were the 1920s flappers and bright young things our own equivalent?

  • Gérard – Robert Hayward
  • Andrea Chénier – Rafael Rojas
  • Maddalena – Annemarie Kremer. I liked her from the start as she sang jestingly of fine dresses, and her Act III recollection of her mother’s death and her own destitution was heartbreaking. A refugee from her own life.

About aides memoires

This is a chronological list of things I have seen, places I have visited, and thoughts that have wandered through the space between my ears. A reading group of one; an art appreciation society limited by my preferences and prejudices; opera criticism by one who knows nothing about the subject.
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