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.
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’: