For example, the scene in which Andrea stands before the statue of Marat and sings "Credi al destino" fails to evoke for me any real sensation. Perhaps it is because, as Grout suggests, the opera is "laden with harmonies that are heavy and oldfashioned [and] has little of special interest" (p. 495). Such could explain why the scenes feel at time clunky and abysmally lacking in flair. Still, at other times, they are vibrant and alive with life -- and those times are when the drama calls for gaity (not for fatalism or idealism).
The opera may, therefore, be interpreted as a political piece -- but I do not wish to convey that interpretation, for I think there is already too much Romanticism in contemporary politics today. I think Andrea fits better as a period piece that should be left in the period for which it was written: one that believed in revolution despite the bitterness of its effects. Today's audiences, I suspect, are less willing to undergo the martyrdom of the fictionalized poet for beliefs that history has proven to be somewhat stilted toward the utopian dream. Therefore, I would suggest that Andrea be performed and watched as an opera that offers bouts of spontaneity and bursts of celebration -- and let the fatalism of the piece drift into the background of an otherwise celebratory theme of Romantic vision.
The artistic vision, of course, cannot match that of the Bregenz Festival's current production of Giordano's opera, in which the floating set on Lake Constance in Austria is designed as a half-submerged torso of Marat (inspired by the famous painting Death of Marat, in which the revolutionary is killed while reclining in his tub) (Bregenzer Festspiele, 2011). Such a production on such an ambitious and highly symbolic scale is possible only in such a place as the Bregenz Festival. The Geneva production offers its own kind of style -- but nothing as comparable as the outdoor setting at Lake Constance.
Not that such a thing is a shame -- for in the case of the Austrian production, it may appear that set and theme outweigh (or, rather, weigh down) the opera. It is, essentially, a problem of trying to do too much -- or of the directors attempting to force their artistic vision onto the performance. It is not necessary. Giordano's vision is already enough to compel the opera to enjoyable heights. As Ethan Mordden (1980) states, Andrea is "a romance…with extravagant genre pictures -- a mob howling as it chases a filled tumbrel, an old 'woman of the people' handing her adolescent grandson over to the army, a revolutionary tribunal with a gallery's worth of Mesdarmes de Farge, newsboys, sansculottes, carmagnoles, snarls, screams, and death" (p. 306). In each of these details is enough artistic vision to keep any audience entertained: the trick is to let the opera do what it is supposed to do. No need for fancy sets or outlandish symbols: Giordano's opera is an event that can lure one to Romantic heights.
The lighting of the opera is effective as it emphasizes a kind of dizzying and chaotic build-up through the brightly lit costumes and backgrounds. Oddly enough, the lights cast an almost unreal, illusory effect on particular scenes -- emphasizing an opposite tendency in which verismo seems to be at the back of the producers' minds. This may be an aesthetical choice -- but I prefer the aesthetics to come from the work itself.
Particularly disappointing, again, is the silly and awkward use of the stage: the tilting of the floor, causing the dancers to slide downward seemed out of place and completely took me out of the opera as a viewer.
Text Issues: the Importance of Language
Leboyer comments that when it comes to viewing Andrea Chenier, having the subtitles present helps a good deal to follow along in the narrative -- despite the fact that the music is meant to underscore the plot. The text of the libretto actually does more. This essentially promotes the idea that language is actually important to opera. How important is Illica's libretto to Giordano's opera -- and how does the librettist correspond with the musician? There is nothing that would make one think that the match between Giordano and Illica was similar to anything Mozart ever enjoyed with his librettist. For example, "Illica's libretto (which, he claimed in a note in the vocal score, did not draw on historical fact but was based on ideas suggested by the editors of the real-life Chenier's poetic works) had originally been written for Alberto Franchetti. Franchetti ceded it to Giordano, who made us of the French Revolutionary background, spicing the opera with quotations of period tunes" (Holden, p. 302).
Again, the libretto, while it does allow for some stirring and rousing arias, lacks the wit and sophistication of the truly great librettos, such as may be found in Mozart's latter works. For example, the final duet by the two lovers, Andrea and Madalena, feels forced not because of the music but because of the words. Perhaps something gets lost in the translation -- but the ideas that they convey seem overly Romantic. But perhaps that is the point. When Chenier sings, "New joys and peace affords us kind death…Here it comes! The passing of our lives is the dawn of our eternal love! Love be our everlasting bond! And Death immortal love!" (Illica, 1896) one's spirit actually groans to see the meaning of the Italian. However, if one were left, instead, to guess at what the singers were conveying, his or her imagination might afford them better and more beautiful words. These only express hackneyed and sentimental thoughts that might have amused patrons a century ago but today feel simply childish.
Voices and Characters
Amanda Holden's assessment, I would have to say, is correct: "the characters are scarcely developed, but the opera is kept alive with effective solos for the three principals and a surging final duet" (Holden, p. 302). Nonetheless, the leads provide enough to look at to keep one interested in the opera from start to finish. Zoran Todorovich brings an impressive tenor to the role of Andrea Chenier and makes some of the more difficult passages seem effortless. Adina Nitescu complements his tenor with her soprano voice in the role of Madalena -- and the two lovers embrace on stage both physically and lyrically the libretto of Illica as though it truly were stemming from their hearts as they sang.
The voices never grow tired and the sound in the Grand Theatre is more than accommodating. The only problem with the opera, of course, is the lack of character development: there really is very little depth of character in anyone of these cardboard cutouts of Romanticism and revolution. The aria of Madalena, "La mamma morta" -- "My mother died," is a touching moment in the opera and she moves through the aria with great feeling. Likewise, Giordano allows his title character to bring joy and light to the character with the "L'improvviso," which thrills more than it advances any sort of plot or deepens any sort of character.
How these performers compare to the original cast which consisted of Giuseppe Borgatti and Evelina Carrera in the roles of the two lovers is a question that perhaps none can answer -- but it might not be worthless to speculate. Indeed, Borgatti's voice is preserved on record (in some arias by Wagner, Verdi and Puccini). All the same, while a century separates the two performers of the same role -- one cannot help but feel the original cast may have had something more magical and true to it than the one assembled in Geneva.
Chorus and Orchestra
One of the best things of the Andrea is the chorus -- which gets to explode on stage in the form of the mob, giving voice to all the passion that had been building in the streets of revolutionary Paris. "The chorus, representing the 'people' in their many guises, plays a larger than usual part, the violence of some of their music (their part is marked urlando -- 'yelling' -- at one point) making a significant contribution to the verismo nature of the work" (Holden, p. 302). Here is the musical expression of a true mob and I do not see how it could have been better down. The manner in which the voices rise at once and in unison nearly brings down the house: it is thunderous and perfectly matches the fever pitch of the opera.
Likewise, the orchestra was able to bring to life Giordano's notes. Even while the libretto moves awkwardly from "political and artistic idealism to blood-and-guts love triangle," Giordano's music seems to match this strange pacing -- yet what allows it to work is the sheer gusto and charm of the…