Andrea Chenier


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Giordano: ANDREA CHENIER

Composer: Umberto Giordano

Libretto: Luigu Illica

First Produced: La Scala, 1896

Present Company: Breganz Festival, 2011

Stage Direction: Keith Warner

Sets: David Fielding

Costumes: Constance Hoffman

Lighting: Davy Cunningham

Choreography: Lynne Page

Video Director: Felix Breisach

Wiener Symphoniker

Breganz Festival Chorus & Prague Philharmonic Choir

Conductor: Ulf Schirmer

 

Cast:

Chenier - Hector Sandoval

Maddalena - Norma Fantini

Gerard - Scott Hendricks

Bersi - Tania Kross

Countessa - Rosalind Plowright

Fleville - Tobias Hachler

Roucher - David Stout

Incredible – Peter Bronder

 

Specs:

Resolution: 1080i

Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1

Disc size: BD-25

Opera: 20.53 GB

Bit Rate: Moderate~Low (12~24 Mbps)

Italian DTS-HD MA 5.1

Italian PCM 2.0 stereo

Opera Subtitles: English, Italian, German, French, Spanish, Chinese & Korean

Region: All

Opera runtime: 126 minutes

C Major, October 2011

 

Grade

Conception & Staging: A

Costumes: A+

Casting: A-

Singing: B

Orchestra: A

Music Direction: A-

Video Direction: A

Image: B

Audio: A-

Extras Features: C-

Recommendation: B+


 

Introduction

Based on the life of the French Revolutionary poet.

 

Production

[Opera Critic]

Giordano's stirring drama has equal potential to thrill in this open-air context in the ingenious concept by Keith Warner and his designer, David Fielding. Dominated by an enormous torso (inspired by David's famous depiction of the French Revolution The Death of Marat), which stretches from the surface of Lake Constance, the left eye "bleeds" a stream of interconnected stairways to facilitate the action. To one side there is an enormous open book, to the other, an oval gold frame, acting as complementary acting areas. At water level, there is a floating platform which can relocate and transform with the political developments in the plot. . . Constance Hoffman has created wonderfully extravagant costumes, in pre and post revolution colour contrasts, while Lynne Pages's stage-filling choreography is eye catching. It is a shame, however, to isolate Madelon from her grandson for her entire scene by placing her inside the torso's mouth - thus taking away from the moment of separation which can and should be so touching. – Moore Parker


        

 

[NY Times]

For “Andrea Chénier,” which tells a story of love and death during the French Revolution, the upper torso and head of the revolutionary figure Jean-Paul Marat, as designed by David Fielding, wows the audience.  The choice of Marat proves eminently logical because a radical militant in the opera actually speaks of dusting off a bust of the leader. Furthermore, the watery setting supplies a wry reference to Marat’s demise, slain in his own bathtub. Late in the opera, a giant knife appears, planted in his chest.  By contrast, Chénier, a real-life poet felled by the guillotine, is associated with an immense feather pen. An open book of his poems, lying on its cover, supplies one of several platforms for stage action.

 

Operas are sometimes trimmed here to fit an intermission-free format, but “Chénier” includes two interpolations of new music by David Blake, including a brief sequence during which the Revolution itself is graphically depicted.  The whole thing is tour de force of stagecraft, if sometimes a little tongue-in-cheek. But Mr. Warner ensures that spectacle meshes reasonably securely with events in the opera — a durable, gripping work by a prominent member of the giovane scuola (young school) of composers who followed Verdi. – George Loomis


        


For a change: a detailed synopsis of the story (courtesy Dennis Albert) - my intention being to demonstrate my belief that the opera has too much plot for its own good.


Story

ACT I. Gérard, servant to the Countess de Coigny, mocks the aristocracy and their manners. Seeing his father struggle with a piece of furniture, Gérard laments the suffering of all servants under their arrogant masters ("Son sessant'anni"). Maddalena, the Countess' daughter, appears and Gérard admits to himself his love for her. Busy with preparations for that evening's soirée, the Countess scolds Maddalena for not yet being dressed. Maddalena complains to her servant, Bersi, about the discomfort of the current fashions and then runs out to change. Among the guests to arrive is Fléville, a novelist, who has brought with him the rising poet, Andrea Chénier. After the Abbé relates the latest depressing news from Paris, Fléville enlivens the party with a pastorale he has written for the occasion. Maddalena then teases the reluctant Chénier into improvising a poem ("Un dì all'azzurro spazio"). Chénier scandalizes the guests with his criticism of the indifference of the clergy and the aristocracy to the suffering of the impoverished. The guests' gavotte is interrupted by Gérard bringing in a group of starving peasants. The Countess orders Gérard out along with the rabble. The guests are then invited to return to the gavotte, but they take their leave instead, and the Countess remains alone.


        


ACT II. The Revolution has begun, and the Reign of Terror is in full force. To fend off Incredibile, a spy, Bersi pretends to be a daughter of the Revolution ("Temer? Perchè?"). Incredibile is not deceived and takes note of Chénier waiting for someone in the Café Hottot. Chénier is joined by his friend Roucher, who has brought a passport so Chénier may leave the country safely. Chénier says his destiny is to remain to find the love he has never had and to discover who has been writing him anonymous letters. Roucher suggests the letters are a trap by one of the ladies of the evening. A procession of dignitaries led by Gérard interrupts their conversation. Incredibile takes Gérard aside to ask about the woman for whom he is searching. Gérard describes Maddalena to him. Meanwhile, Bersi asks Chénier to wait at the café for someone who wants to meet him. Maddalena appears and reveals to Chénier that it was she who wrote the letters. They pledge to love each other until death ("Ora soave"). Incredibile, having spied Chénier and Maddalena together, brings Gérard to the scene. Gérard is wounded as Chénier defends Maddalena. Gérard, however, recognizes Chénier and sends him on his way, telling him to protect Maddalena. When the gathering crowd asks who wounded Gérard, he answers that his assailant was unknown.


        


ACT III. In the Tribunal courtroom, Mathieu, a revolutionary, is unsuccessfully urging the crowd to donate to the cause. Gérard, recovered from his wound, makes an impassioned plea for the motherland. Madelon, an old woman who has already lost her son and a grandson in the war, offers her last grandson as a soldier. As the crowd disperses, Incredibile appears. If Gérard wants to have Maddalena, Incredibile insists, he must first arrest her lover, Chénier. As Gérard writes the accusation, he is filled with remorse at the bloodshed he has caused in his rise to power now that his new master is passion ("Nemico della patria"). No sooner does he hand Chénier's indictment to the court clerk than Maddalena appears. Gérard admits to the trap he laid for her and to his overwhelming passion for her. Maddalena offers herself to Gérard if he will save Chénier. She has been a fugitive, her mother killed in the Revolution and their home burned ("La mamma morta"). Touched by her love for Chénier, Gérard promises to try to save him. The Tribunal convenes with an unruly mob in attendance. Chénier pleads for his life ("Sì, fui soldato"), and Gérard admits to the judges that the accusation he wrote was false. Nevertheless, Chénier is sentenced to death and taken away.


        


ACT IV. In the ruins of Saint Lazare prison, Chénier reads a final poem ("Come un bel dì di maggio") to his friend, Roucher, who then bids him a final adieu. Gérard and Maddalena are met by the jailer, Schmidt, whom Maddalena bribes with some jewels to allow her to take the place of another young woman sentenced to death. Gérard leaves to plead Chénier's case with Robespierre once again. Maddalena tells Chénier she is there to die with him. They share a last moment together ("Vicino a te") as the day dawns. When their names are called for the guillotine, they embrace the fate which will forever join them.


        

 

Performance

There is so much SPECTACLE to this production that the visuals nearly drown out the performances of the singers.  But thanks to Felix Breisach’s knowing video direction we zero in whenever any singer takes the spotlight.  Naturally, the venue doesn’t allow for the most elegant placement of camera, but it is good enough that we can focus where necessary.  As has been noted in other reviews, the find in this production is the lovely tenor of Hector Sandoval in the title role.  Born and raised in Mexico, the 42 year old Sandoval moved to to Europe in his twenties where he studied with such luminaries as Placido Domingo, Ileana Cotrubas, Walter Berry and Luigi Alva Additionally he worked on his vocal technique with Francisco Araiza.  His singing in this performance is reminiscent of the best of the young Carreras.


        


The other notable cast member is American baritone Scott Hendricks as Gerard. Authoritative, passionate, incisive, Hendricks nails the part to the wall. I can’t say as much for the women, especially Norma Fantini as Maddalena, whose support wanders throughout the opera, at times full and luscious, most other times wavering. Rosalind Plowright is hampered by fuzzy miking, but Bersi - Tania Kross’ Bersi and Tobias Hachler’s Fleville are well judged. The Breganz Festival Chorus & Prague Philharmonic Choir has their work cut out for them; they are, by and large, superb but their cross rhythmic complex entrance in the first act lacks precision. The Wiener Symphoniker under Conductor Ulf Schirmer plays colorfully, though Schirmer does press things a bit in the final act.


        

 

Video

C Major and its related companies (e.g. Arthaus Musik and Kultur), have for some years enjoyed small file size, low bit rate, high compression operas on Blu-ray – most famously, Wagner’ highly praised RING set.  In the present case, C Major gets generally good results with a two-hour opera crammed into just 20.5 GB.  Taking no prisoners, C Major wastes some 1.2 GB on promos for self-promotion in HD, leaving about 3 GB of a single-layered BD25 empty.

 

Clearly, the mastering engineers take full advantage of the AVC codec that permits dropping the bit rate when the image changes little and especially when it has large areas of black in the frame.  The bit rate stays generally in the 12~18 Mbps range for the darker scenes, and allowing it to cruise in the low 20s when the things brighten up.  Understandable, yes, but there are consequences: largely in motion, as when a person turns suddenly to one side or the other. The image is sharp, excepting for one camera that gets it wrong now and again, colors are brilliant – at times popping jaw-droppingly off the screen - noise is kept at bay, transfer artifacts are vanishingly low.  Most viewers would be satisfied.  Why am I not, besides the fact that it grates my aesthetic sensibilities to waste space and to charge what they do when they could have eaten an extra dollar’s profit to ensure the best possible transfer with a BD50 and corresponding doubling of the bit rate.


        

 

If you were to come fresh from any number of Opus Arte Blu-ray operas, regardless of style, you would see the difference at once.  Opus Arte images are denser have more color contrast and texture.  That’s what’s missing here: Breganz’ outdoor venue, along with Davy Cunningham’s lighting places demands on high-def video that needs all the help it can get from the transfer so as not to wash out the highs and block detail in the dark areas.  There is some noise in those areas where the light is less than moderate, though I did not find it especially distracting.


        

 

Audio

By all appearances, it is the exception rather than the rule that singers on Blu-ray operas do not wear microphones on their person, but the most casual look at the staging of this opera on the edge of Austria’s Lake Constance convinces us of their necessity.  What is surprising is that there are no balance problems among the cast and chorus (which much be similarly miked), nor between singers and orchestra, nor - except for Rosalind Plowright’s Contessa, whose voice for some reason sounds a bit distorted, as if her mike input was overloaded but rebalanced at the output - are the voices noticeably compromised.  I would assume that, being an outdoor venue that the whole affair is amplified for the audience - perhaps not.  If so, then we are all the more pleased that there is no echo.  Neither does the orchestra feel especially lacking in weight or resonance, which is surprising considering the absence of walls.  All in all, a remarkable achievement.


        

 

Bonus

There are no bonus features on the disc save a handful of C Major previews in HD.  The enclosed 18-page booklet in English, French and German, includes credits, a synopsis, a detailed scene breakdown and a transcription of part of an interview with the director Keith Warner and set designer David Fielding, conducted by Aimé Jajes and Axel Renner.


        

 

Recommendation

As mentioned earlier I feel that Andrea Chénier has more plot than its mere two hours can handle. The story is more suitable for a novel than an opera. There is not enough space to flesh out the characters, especially Chénier, who remains something of a cipher for me.  This production, with its devotion to spectacle, makes character and motivation that much more remote.  The singing from the men is very fine; the women, hit and miss.  The transfer looks pretty good considering the lowish bit rate: colors are brilliant, and contrast is generally in check.  The audio is quite respectable when you considerable the circumstances of an outdoor venue.


        



Leonard Norwitz

© LensViews

March 1, 2013



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