United States Giordano, Andrea Chénier: Soloists, Metropolitan Opera Chorus and Orchestra, Gianandrea Noseda (conductor), The Metropolitan Opera House, New York. 12.4.14 (RP)
The Major Domo: Kyle Pfortmiller
Carlo Gérard: Željko Lučić
Maddalena de Coigny: Patricia Racette
Countess de Coigny: Margaret Lattimore
Bersi: Jennifer Johnson Cano
Fléville: John Moore
The Abbé: Dennis Peterson
Andrea Chénier: Marcelo Álvarez
Mathieu: Robert Pomakov
The Incredible: Tony Stevenson
Roucher: Dwayne Croft
Madelon: Oleysa Petrova
Dumas: James Courtney
Fouquier-Tinville: Jeffrey Wells
Schmidt: David Crawford
Production: Nicolas Joël
Set and Costume Designer: Hubert Monloup
Lighting Designer: Duane Schuler
Chorus Master: Donald Palumbo
After it was announced that conductor Gianandrea Noseda was being treated by a doctor, the Saturday matinee of Andrea Chénier at the Metropolitan Opera got off to a late start. A few minutes later he appeared and things got underway, but before the curtain went up on Act III, it was announced that Marcelo Álvarez, the title character, was suffering from shortness of breath but would finish the performance. Not only was his character doomed to the guillotine at that point, the audience feared for the worst.
As it turned out, the star of the performance was Željko Lučić as Carlo Gérard, a complex figure. Born the son of a servant, destined to a life of servitude himself, he becomes a child of the Revolution and is politically savvy enough to negotiate and thrive under the Reign of Terror. Yet now that the Revolution has leveled the social playing field, he is thwarted by the fact that Maddalena, whose family he once served, loves the poet Andrea Chénier. There is an innate decency to Gérard as he tries to save Chénier, and ultimately facilitates Maddalena’s desire to die alongside him. Lučić captured all of the facets in his singing and acting, and “Nemico della Patria” was the vocal highpoint of the afternoon. Of the three principals, his voice was the only truly heroic one. And in this particular case, when the baritone steals the show, something is not quite right.
Patricia Racette just does not have the vocal heft necessary for the role of Maddalena. “La Mamma morta” was beautifully sung and carefully sculpted, but the role is one size too big for her; she had to make audible physical adjustments to build up to the climaxes of Giordani’s soaring lines. More than once I thought to myself that she was better suited for a role in Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmélites or Marie Antoinette in Corigliano’s The Ghost of Versailles, both also set during the French Revolution.
Álvarez is also a stylish singer, but he is not cut out for the dramatic, tenor verismo roles. Hampered as he was on the breathing front, he gets points for trying, but there was competency where there should be thrilling sound and passion.
Given this state of affairs, it is no surprise that some of the smaller parts left more vivid impressions than they sometimes do. Margaret Lattimore was a haughty and strong-voiced Countess de Coigny. (No wonder the revolutionaries killed her and burned her chateaux.) In the role of The Incredible, Tony Stevenson cast a sinister shadow; his mere presence skulking around on stage brought a chill. And finally, Madelon’s poignant little aria was beautifully sung by Oleysa Petrova. When she asked, “Who will guide me now?” after sending her young grandson off to fight for the Revolution, one could feel the audience’s sympathy for her plight.
Noseda did not seem hampered by whatever was ailing him, and seemed to enjoy a good rapport with the Met Orchestra. He was also quite sensitive to balance between the musicians and the voices. Only once did he let the orchestra drown out a singer: near the end of Act II, Lučić’s lips were moving but there was no sound to be heard.
The Met chorus sounded great, but the staging was a bit off. Apart from Act I, when they are either guests or servants, the chorus is generally an angry, bloodthirsty mob. Except for a few fleeting moments in Act III, they seemed oddly merry and jaunty, mugging it up for the audience.
The 1996 production still looks fresh, with monumental sets, if not particularly imaginative. After Maddelena and Chénier sang their final duet, they turned to backs to the audience and looked through a giant arch into beams of white light–a bit anti-climactic, in keeping with a low wattage afternoon.