Douglas_Nasrawi

Plácido Domingo as Andrea Chénier

chenier-portret
André Chénier

For me, Andrea Chénier is one of the best and most beautiful operas ever. I think the music is nothing less than divine and the story is timeless. It remains current, perhaps now more than ever. The tyrant must be cast off his throne and the people must take control. Surely, we all agree on that?

If only it were that simple! Anyone who grew up in a post-revolutionary totalitarian regime knows how much horror it brings. One terror is replaced by another.

This, at least for me, is the main theme in Giordano’s biggest hit. I don’t think the real lead role is the actual poet, André Chénier (did you know that Giordano used Chénier’s poems in his arias?) nor his beloved Maddalena. It is the French Revolution, which, as Gérard (once Maddalena’s houseboy and now one of the revolutionary leaders) bitterly observes, devours its own children.

To my great surprise, I read that Domingo didn’t much like the part of Andrea Chénier. He loved the opera, but the role, one of the toughest in the ‘lirico-spinto’ repertoire, was not really interesting for him dramatically. For him, Chénier was ‘an idealist who always has his head in the clouds’. And yet it was one of the operas he loved to sing!

I myself think the role of the poet/revolutionary fits him like a glove. Passion for love and enormous involvement in everything that happens in the world were – and still are – his trademarks.

Domingo sings ‘One of all’azzurro spazio’:

He sang his first Cheniér in 1966 in New Orleans, as the last-minute replacement for Franco Corelli, but that was not his first performance of the opera. In the 1960/61 season he sang The Incredible and The Abbot, in Mexico.

chenier-domingo-cd

My favourite CD recording was recorded in 1976 by RCA (GD 82046). The cast is delectable. Renata Scotto sings Maddalena, Sherrill Milnes is Gérard and in the small roles we hear, among others, Jean Kraft, Maria Ewing, Michel Sénéchal and Gwendolyn Killebrew. James Levine, who conducts the National Philharmonic Orchestra, understands exactly what the opera is about. Tear jerkingly beautiful.

Scotto sings ‘La Mamma morta’:

 


chenier domingo dg

In 1981 the opera in Vienna was recorded for TV. That recording has since been released on DVD (DG 073 4070 7). Gabriela Beňačková, one of the most underrated singers in history, sings a Maddalena of flesh and blood. Horrifyingly beautiful and moving.

Piero Cappuccilli is a Gérard among thousands and the small roles are also filled by great singers: Madelon is sung by none other than Fedora Barbieri. Otto’s Schenk’s production is a feast for the eyes.

English translation: Douglas Nasrawi

Piotr Beczala and his new heroes

Beczala Vincero

Listening to this CD, I was reminded of La Fontaine’s fable about the ant and the cricket, the moral of which is, ‘whistling in the summer is fun, but when the winter comes you need your savings’. More or less.

Change the ‘savings’ to voice and you have the secret of Piotr Beczala.  Starting with the delicate Mozarts and the most lyrical Verdis, he climbed, via poetic Rodolfo and Massenet’s Des Grieux, to what’s generally considered heavier repertoire. First, a careful step towards Lohengrin and Gustavo (Ballo in Maschera), but then the floodgates opened and voilà!  Here is a tenor at the beginning of the third important phase in his professional life, that of the lyrico-spinto.

After Mario (Tosca) and Maurizio (Adriana Lecouvreur), it’s now the turn of Radames and Calaf and these roles are no small endeavour. And guess what? He can do it! He approaches these roles less ‘heroically’ than some, since it’s not really necessary. Listen to his illustrious predecessors whose voices most resembled his, with the sob and the tear, Tauber and Kiepura.  He approaches his heroes emotionally and does not shy away from sentiment, which doesn’t mean he robs the role of anything.

What I do regret is that he has chosen the most famous arias from the repertoire.  But on the other hand, this has given him a chance to compare himself to others in this repertoire and the comparison is in his favor, especially with regard to his contemporaries.

Radames is not on the CD, but Calaf is, which immediately explains the title. His ‘Nessun dorma’ is mainly tender and the Cor de la Generalitat Valenciana supports him well.  There is one downside: ‘Aveto torto … Firenze è come un albero fiorito’ from Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi.  Beczala has long since outgrown this role.


English translation Douglas Nasrawi

 VINCERÓ
Puccini, Cilea, Mascagni, Giordano, Leoncavallo, Verdi
Piotr Beczala (tenor)
Evgenya Khomurtova (mezzo-soprano)
Cor de la Generalitat Valenciana
Orquestra de la Comunitat Valenciana conducted by Marco Boemi
Pentatone PTC 5186 733

Why don’t we see Martinů’s Greek Passion more often?

Greek Passion martinu-600 Universal Edition Magazine

Once, years ago I begged the gods (and the staff of DNO) to put by Bohuslav Martinů’s The Greek Passion on the repertoire list. In vain. It doesn’t even have to be a new production, on the contrary! There is a beautiful staging made by David Pountney. It was first performed in 1999 in Bregenz (this was the first version of the opera), and a few years later at the Royal Opera House in London.

I saw the production in London and was very moved by it. In the performance I attended, the main parts were played by Christopher Ventris as Manolios (Christ) and Douglas Nasrawi as Panait (Judas), and since then I have hoped that one day a DVD will be released. In vain, so it seems …

‘Christ was crucified again’

Greek Passion Kazantzakis

Nikos Kazantzakis © Universal Edition Magazine

The subject: refugees, corruption, religious fanaticism, humanism and the search for identification was, is and will always remain topical. Bitter, tragic, but also beautiful and very humane. Martinů himself wrote the libretto for it, based on the novel ‘Ο Χριστός ξανασταυρώνεται’ (Christ was crucified again) by Nikos Kazantzakis. The book (and the opera) tells a story of the survivors of a Turkish massacre who seek shelter in a Greek village where the local population is preparing for their annual ‘Passion performances’.

FILM

Greek Passion film

There are two versions of the opera. The original version was rejected by the then management of the Royal Opera House in 1957. The score, which was drastically adapted by Martinů, was not performed until 1961 in Zurich, after the composer’s death. This ‘revision’ was recorded by Supraphon in 1981 and filmed for television in 1999 (Supraphon SU 7014-9).

For the time being, we should be satisfied with that, at least as far as the image is concerned. Not that it’s bad, on the contrary, because there’s a lot to enjoy, but it’s a film and the roles are played by professional actors who really do their best to make us believe that they’re singing too.

The film is strongly reminiscent of Zeffirelli. If you have seen his Cavalleria Rusticana, you know what I mean. There are beautiful images of the arid landscape and the heat and drought are almost palpable.

The soundtrack comes from the recording by the Brno Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Charles Mackerras (need I say more?) with a cast including John Tomlinson as the priest Grigoris, John Mitchinson as Manolios, Helen Field as Katerina and the soloists of the Welsh National Opera.

CD

Greek Pasion Kaftan

Recently, the first, original version of the opera was published on Oehms (OC 967), recorded live in Graz in March 2016. The performance is definitely good. The Swiss tenor Rolf Romei is a very moving Manolios and Dshamilja Kaiser a convincing Katerina. The Grazer Philharmonisches Orchester is conducted very idiomatically and very appealingly by Dirk Kaftan.


Judging by the pictures in the textbooklet (and the fragments on You Tube) the production was also beautiful to see. Why is this not on DVD?

In Dutch: BOHUSLAV MARTINŮ: The Greek Passion

Translated with http://www.DeepL.com/Translator