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Casting from strength

Chelsea Opera Group's 'Andrea Chénier',
reviewed by ROBERT HUGILL


By Chelsea Opera Group standards, Giordano's Andrea Chénier is not the most unusual of works; after all, it has been done at Covent Garden as a vehicle for Placido Domingo and for José Carreras. Outside of Italy, the work's main hold on the repertoire is simply as a passionate vehicle for a star tenor. But at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, London, UK, on Sunday 6 June 2004, Chelsea Opera Group's well balanced cast enabled us to re-evaluate Giordano's French Revolutionary opera anew, particularly in the context of operas by other contemporaries of Puccini, such as Catalani's La Wally which the Chelsea Opera Goup performed last year. I must confess, though, that I was a little disappointed that they did not essay one of the rarer Giordano pieces such as Siberia or La cena delle beffe.

The title role was sung by Julian Gavin who is familiar to London audiences from his performances at English National Opera. This was a welcome opportunity to hear him singing in Italian rather than English and throughout the opera his tone was ringing and open throated. He gave a passionate, dramatically credible performance of the role and relished the set piece arias that Giordano gives Andrea Chénier and which are the work's principal attraction.

As the heroine, Maddalena, Claire Rutter gave a strong performance, making the transition from coquettish beauty to passionate lover and displaying a lovely, limpid voice which was equal to the weight Giordano puts on it in the bigger climaxes. In some ways, Giordano does not treat Maddalena as well as Chénier, she certainly does not have anything quite like his attractive set pieces. But Rutter was moving in her description of her mother's traumatic death in the revolution and her own descent into penury. And in the duets, Rutter and Gavin were glorious; faced with such wonderful vocalism we could not help but be carried away and forget the work's rather dodgy dramaturgy. The finale, in which they go off together on a tumbril towards their execution singing passionately of love, is one of those purely operatic moments that can sound risible on paper. But in a performance of this stature and commitment it became perfectly credible, at least in operatic terms.

The third character in the trio of protagonists is Gérard, who starts as one of Maddalena's family servants but joins enthusiastically in with the French Revolution. Gérard has an awkward role in the drama. He villainously accuses Chénier falsely before a revolutionary tribunal in order that he can get access to Maddalena because he, Gérard, is in love with her. But on discovering that Maddalena is passionately in love with Chénier, Gérard renounces her and attempts (unsuccessfully) to get Chénier a reprieve. Simon Neal portrayed Gérard as a decent man driven by obsession and with his strong, dark voice gave a passionate account of Gérard's troubles.

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Copyright © 10 June 2004 Robert Hugill, London UK


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