ROME: Andrea Chénier
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In Review > International

Andrea Chénier

Rome Opera

In Review Rome Chenier lg 717
Gregory Kunde, Rome Opera’s Andrea Chénier © Yasuko Kageyama/Opera Roma

IN THE FIRST HALF of the twentieth century, Andrea Chénier was one of the most frequently staged works at Rome Opera, with tenors of the caliber of De Muro, Gigli, Lauri-Volpi and Pertile alternating in the title role. In more recent decades, Giordano’s opera has fallen out of favor somewhat: the new production staged this season by film director Marco Bellocchio was the first at the theater in forty-two years. The performance of April 23 proved worthy of the high standards established in the past, and the packed Sunday-afternoon audience was clearly delighted with what it saw and heard. 

Giordano’s skill in writing for the voice was well illustrated by Gregory Kunde’s noble assumption of the role of Chénier. Though the American tenor is now sixty-three, his timbre has rarely sounded so handsome throughout its range, and his phrasing was refreshing in its musical exactness, technical ease and ardent seriousness. His poet lacked the romantic abandon and sensuality that some Latin tenors have brought to the role, but he appeared inspiringly upright in his political principles—suggesting at times a hero of the American rather than the French Revolution. 

Baritone Roberto Frontali is another singer who has continued to improve, both vocally and theatrically, with the passing of the decades. He too is a refined musician who never overheats his phrasing in the conventional verismo manner, yet he conveyed from the beginning the full complexity of Gérard’s inner life, and when the voice expanded at climaxes, the effect was both emotionally overwhelming (he was awarded an ovation after “Nemico della patria”) and musically gratifying. 

Uruguayan soprano Maria José Siri has had a number of prominent engagements in Italy this season, and her Maddalena made it clear why she is so much in demand. Her singing is vibrant, free, enveloping in legato and verbally alert, and as with her colleagues her phrasing was musically interesting as well as emotionally alive, as witness her spacious, almost introspective “La mamma morta.” The performance demonstrated how carefully Roberto Abbado had rehearsed the score with the singers. His conducting highlighted rhythmic and coloristic details that rarely emerge in more routine performances of Chénier,yet his reading was never coldly analytical or lacking in narrative flow. The response of the Rome Opera Orchestra was wholehearted, and the chorus, trained by Roberto Gabbiani, acted and sang with conviction, as did the many fine singers playing secondary roles. 

The production, with sets by Gianni Carluccio and costumes by Daria Calvelli, was magnificent—stunning as an evocation of a distant epoch, yet free from any distracting, fussy details. Bellocchio’s self-effacing direction was a model of its kind, maintaining the narrative focus in even the most crowded scenes and lighting the singers in such a way as to heighten the combined expressive impact of their vocal phrasing, facial expressions and gestures. —Stephen Hastings 

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