Review – Andrea Chénier at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden


Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London

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Earlier this month, the esteemed Sir Mark Elder took his final bow as Hallé Music Director (after almost a quarter of a century in the role) following a rousing performance of Mahler’s Fifth Symphony at Manchester’s Bridgewater Hall. Last night, in Covent Garden, we saw another long-term, knighted giant bowing out after an extraordinary twenty-two years, marking another huge shift in the UK classical scene.

Sir Antonio Pappano first took up the role of Music Director of The Royal Opera back in 2002 and the impact he has had on the Royal Opera House and the opera world in general throughout that time has been, quite frankly, colossal.

For his final production at the helm, Pappano has selected something a little different. Less obvious. Less celebrated. He could very easily have just played things safe and gone out with an all-star Puccini or Verdi, but that’s not Pappano.

Review of Andrea Chénier at the Royal Opera House
Production photo of Andrea Chénier © ROH 2024. Photo by Marc Brenner

Returning to a production first staged at the Royal Opera House during the 2014/15 season, Pappano now reunites with long-time collaborators, director David McVicar and superstar tenor Jonas Kaufmann, for this thrilling revival of Umberto Giordano’s 1896 verismo opera, Andrea Chénier, an epic historical drama set during the darkest days of the French Revolution.

In keeping with the post-Romantic verismo tradition, Luigi Illica’s libretto employs biting prose full of emotion and depth to help drive this high melodrama of forbidden love, poetry and revolution.

Set to Giordano’s glorious score, the opera depicts the story of French poet André Chénier – guillotined during the Reign of Terror for alleged crimes against the state – exploring the ill-fated relationship between his beloved Maddalena, daughter of the Countess of Coigny, and his rival, Gérard, a former servant to the countess in love with Maddalena, who rebels against the aristocracy and becomes a key figure of the Revolution.

Nearly a decade on from that 2015 production, everything about this revised revival staging now feels more expansive. The performances more exhilarating, the themes more profound, Pappano’s interpretation more intense and impassioned, drawing out a superb, full-blooded performance from the orchestra.

Review of Andrea Chénier at the Royal Opera House
SONDRA RADVANOVSKY (Maddalena), JONAS KAUFMANN (Andrea Chénier), Andrea Chénier © ROH 2024. Photo by Marc Brenner

Vocally, Kaufmann and Sondra Radvanovsky are as glorious as ever and there’s a real chemistry and depth of character from the two oft-paired veterans. Kaufmann’s spinto voice may not be quite as effortless these days but it still carries that glorious weight and rich tone, with the high notes just as forceful as ever. Radvanovsky is a soprano who has always sung with beautiful colour but there’s a real intensity to the voice here which adds further dimension to that lyrical warmth.

Perhaps the most exciting discovery of the night, however, is the performance of Mongolian baritone Amartuvshin Enkhbat as Gérard, a superb, almost understated voice full of wonderful power and clarity, showcasing real subtlety and emotion during the magnificent Nemico Della Patria.

In the supporting cast, there are fine performances too from the great Rosalind Plowright as the Contessa, rising star Katia Ledoux as Maddalena’s maid, Bersi, and a fabulous Elena Zilio as the tragic Madelon, who demonstrates extraordinary vocal control at the tender age of 83.

Review of Andrea Chénier at the Royal Opera House
AMARTUVSHIN ENKHBAT (Carlo Gérard), JAMES CLEVERTON (Mathieu) Andrea Chénier © ROH 2024. Photo by Marc Brenner

McVicar’s spectacular staging remains a winner; a rich, traditional production elevated by intricate, period details and exquisite lighting, with candlelight and street lamps bathing the stage in a warm, golden glow.

Andrea Chénier may not have the big, famous arias, the grand overture and the general renown of similar contemporary works, but it remains a thrilling opera that delivers a real, stirring impact. Plus, with its themes of political unrest, patriotism and a loss of faith in humanity, few operas could be quite as relevant given the current political climate.

A magnificent revival and an impassioned swan-song for Pappano’s outstanding time at the helm.

Running Time: 2 hours and 40 minutes (approx.), including one 30-minute interval.

Royal Opera House Live Cinema Season screening reviewed at Everyman Altrincham

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