A Return to the Brilliant Days of the Liceu with a Superb Andrea Chénier

SpainSpain Giordano, Andrea Chénier: Liceu Orchestra and Chorus / Pinchas Steinberg (conductor), Gran Teatre del Liceu, Barcelona, 12 & 13.3.2018. (JMI)

Jonas Kaufmann & Sondra Radvanovsky in Andrea Chénier © A. Bofill
Jonas Kaufmann & Sondra Radvanovsky in Andrea Chénier © A. Bofill

Andrea Chénier – Jonas Kaufmann/Jorge de León
Maddalena di Coigny – Sondra Radvanovsky/Julianna di Giacomo
Carlo Gerard – Carlos Álvarez/Michael Chioldi
Bersi – Yulia Mennibaeva/Gemma Coma-Alabert
Countess Coigny – Sandra Ferrández
L’Incredibile – Francisco Vas
Madelon – Anna Tomowa-Sintow/Elena Zaremba
Roucher – Fernando Radó
Fléville – Toni Marsol
Fouquier-Tinville – Fernando Latorre
Mathieu – Manel Esteve
Abate – Marc Sala
Schmidt – Christian Díaz
Dumas – David Sánchez

Director – David McVicar (original), Marie Lambert (revival)
Sets – Robert Jones
Costumes – Jenny TiramanLighting – Adam Silverman

Andrea Chénier has returned to the Liceu, ​​where it was last performed in September 2007. Then, as now, it featured a double cast, and Pinchas Steinberg was in the pit. On this occasion, the first cast starred the best trio of protagonists that can be assembled for Andrea Chénier today – and it felt like the brilliant old days of the Liceu. It’s not surprising that the theatre was practically sold out.

Overall, this was a wonderful production with outstanding musical direction and vocal performances that created huge enthusiasm in the audience. The David McVicar staging is not unknown here: it could be seen in cinemas when it premiered three years ago at Covent Garden (review click here). The first act in the residence of the Countess de Coigny is particularly attractive, and the costumes, which are faithful to the time of the French Revolution, are a real asset in the production. The stage direction is admirable, although there are a few peculiarities; for instance, Carlo Gerard does not lead the revolt of servants in Act I but simply joins in.

Conductor Pinchas Steinberg’s performance was truly rewarding: he gave great support to the singers in a vibrant and appropriate reading. The orchestra was excellent, and the chorus was also convincing.

The role of Andreas Chénier was interpreted by the great German divo of the moment, Jonas Kaufmann, who made his debut in the part at the January 2015 Covent Garden premiere of this production. Then, as now, the strongest part of his performance came in the second part of the opera. Without questioning his quality as a singer, I found him less impressive in the role than when I heard him sing it last summer in Munich. His voice did not have the clarity that it once did as, for instance, when he sang with the other two main protagonists. He was at his best in the trial scene and in the Act IV aria ‘Come un bel di di maggio’.

In the second cast, Andrea Chénier was sung by Jorge de León, and his voice is nicely suited to the character. However, he has a pronounced vibrato, which was noticeable in his Chénier in Oviedo a few months ago, but which now seems even wider. He did not shine particularly in the first acts, but was very good in the last act, especially in the final duet with Maddalena.

Sondra Radvanovsky as Maddalena di Coigny had the big triumph of the night. Not all opera lovers are excited by this singer’s voice, but I have been a fan since I first saw her 18 years ago as Freia in Das Rheingold. She is a powerful soprano and almost unrivalled in some characters, having never left pure bel canto. Her performance in this case was magnificent. Her voice reached the audience with a volume that was unmatched by her costars. In addition to that beautiful and powerful voice, she is an outstanding actress: her interpretation of ‘La mamma morta’ earned her one of the greatest ovations that I have heard in many years.

Maddalena was sung by soprano Julianna Di Giacomo in the second cast. She has a wide voice but there is a certain monotony to it, due to the lack of colours. Above all, she had the great problem of having to fight with one’s memory of Sondra Radvanovsky the day before.

Carlos Álvarez was an outstanding interpreter of Carlo Gerard, and he shone in a special way in Act III, both in his scene with Maddalena and in the aria ‘Nemico della patria’, where he gave a lesson on expressive singing. In the second cast, baritone Michael Chioldi, making his debut at the Liceu, did well in the part. His voice is ample and attractive, but he has a tendency to open sounds, which was evident in his interpretation of ‘Nemico della Patria’.

Bersi was well served by mezzo-soprano Yulia Mennibaeva in the first cast, while Gemma Coma-Alabert in the second was correct in the part. Sandra Ferrández’s voice was somewhat light for the Countess of Coigny, while Francisco Vas as The Incredible gave a strong performance, as he always does.

Madelon was interpreted by Anna Tomowa-Sintow in the first cast; and in the second by mezzo-soprano Elena Zaremba, who did well. Fernando Radó made a good impression as Roucher, the friend of the poet.

Among the secondary characters, Toni Marsol was a suitable Fleville and Manel Esteve a sonorous Mathieu.

Jose M. Irurzun

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