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Andrea Chénier

Teatro alla Scala

In Review Andrea Chenier lg 318
Anna Netrebko and Yusif Eyvazov, Maddalena and Andrea Chénier at La Scala
© Brescia/Amisano–Teatro alla Scala

ANDREA CHÉNIER  had its world premiere at La Scala in 1896 and has been heard here many times since. This year marked the first time Giordano’s opera was chosen to open the Scala season; the second performance of the run, on December 10, made it clear that this Chénier was the most successful opening so far under Riccardo Chailly’s music direction. The Italian conductor, who also led the work when it was last staged here in 1985, encouraged a greater degree of musical and dramatic continuity than is usual. The four-act opera was presented with a single interval, and the maestro discouraged applause after individual numbers (several of which don’t end when one expects). Chailly proved sensitive and expansive in accompaniment—the house orchestra was at its poised best—encouraging the leading tenor and baritone to phrase as lyrically as possible and bring uncommon musical finish to their big arias without sacrificing the climaxes above the staff. Although immediate audience response to those climaxes can generate an electricity of its own, it can also cheapen the drama by reducing it to a series of vocal highlights. 

In the relaxed context of this Sunday matinée, Azerbaijani tenor Yusif Eyvazov, as Chénier, gave one of the finest performances of his career. His voice commands the ample range and volume needed for the poet, and his singing evinced greater refinement and beauty of tone than has often been the case in the past, with registers blended skillfully and his tones emerging rounded and limpid in every phrase, enhanced by equally well-honed diction. As an actor, Eyvazov did nothing remarkable, but he was never less than nobly poetic in expression, though his eyes were too visibly glued to the conductor much of the time. As Gérard, Luca Salsi sounded much better in the theater than during the live relay on opening night on December 7. Salsi does not have a particularly individual or richly colored timbre, and words were not always memorably projected, but his voice was solidly sustained throughout, and as an actor, he was fully engaged in the drama, more focused on his relationship with the other characters than on his rapport with the audience. 

Anna Netrebko’s Maddalena was a more audience-conscious performance—the luxuriant top B that crowned “La mamma morta” was delivered directly to the gallery—and more traditional in its rhetoric, relying on generosity of tone rather than subtlety. She delineated, however, a strikingly sensual heroine, lending an erotic intensity even to her Act III encounter with Gérard (in which she started to undress, as if half-attracted to her aggressor) and to the Act IV duet, in which the prospect of death was embraced voluptuously. Netrebko and Eyvazov’s commitment justified the headiness of a melody that can seem facile when the characters are presented in a more starkly tragic light.

The Scala chorus (which was fascinating to observe during the Tribunal scene) and supporting cast were musically impressive, with Costantino Finucci’s Fléville, Gabriele Sagona’s Roucher, Carlo Bosi’s Incredibile and Francesco Verna’s Mathieu emerging as vivid cameos. Well sung, but less specific in detail, were Mariana Pentcheva’s Contessa di Coigny and Judit Kutasi’s Madelon. 

Mario Martone’s production employed a deceptively simple rotating set, designed by Margherita Palli to persuasive effect; the traditional-style costumes were by Ursula Patzak. The staging of the opening scene in Act I, in which all the guests at the Coigny castle were present from the beginning, frozen like dummies until their scheduled entrance, was arguably better-suited to film than to a theatrical production and lessened the impact of Gérard’s irate opening solo. Other solutions that appeared pretentious in the live relay—such as the repeated use of mirror images—proved less obtrusive in the house, adding depth to the drama without distracting from the narrative flow. —Stephen Hastings 

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