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A booming success

Gran Teatre del Liceu
03/09/2018 -  & March 10*, 12, 13, 15, 17, 18, 19, 21, 22, 24, 25, 27, 28, 2018
Umberto Giordano: Andrea Chénier
Jonas Kaufmann/Jorge de León*/Antonello Palombi (Andrea Chénier), Sondra Radvanovsky/Julianna Di Giacomo* (Maddalena de Coigny), Carlos Alvarez/Michael Chioldi* (Carlo Gérard), Yulia Mennibaeva/Gemma Coma-Alabert* (Bersi), Anna Tomowa-Sintow/Elena Zaremba* (Madelon), Sandra Ferrández (Contessa de Coigny), Fernando Radó (Roucher), Toni Marisol (Pietro Fléville), Fernando Latorre (Fouquier Tinville), Manel Esteve (Mathieu), Francisco Vas (L’Incredibile), Marc Sala (Abate), Christian Díaz (Majordomo, Schmidt), David Sánchez (Dumas)
Chorus of the Gran Teatre del Liceu, Conxita Garcia (chorus master), Symphony Orchestra of the Gran Teatre del Liceu, Pinchas Steinberg (conductor)
David McVicar (original director), Marie Lambert (director), Robert Jones (set designer), Jenny Tiramani (costume designer), Andrew George (choreographer), Adam Silverman (lighting designer)

J. de León, J. Di Giacomo (© A. Bofill)

This handsome production of Andrea Chénier had its debut at the Royal Opera House, London, in January, 2015, and it was widely seen in cinemas and issued on DVD. The title role was assumed then by Jonas Kaufmann who also performed it when this run opened at the Gran Teatre del Liceu in Barcelona. (Two other opera houses share the co-production: Beijing and San Francisco, where it was performed in 2016.)

Such is the drawing power of Mr. Kaufmann that his three performances command a premium price (resulting in a top price of up to 385 euros vs the regular top of 250 euros, with lower price seats also subject to a corresponding premium.) Two other tenors perform the role during the 14-performance run: Jorge de León (with seven performances) and Antonello Palombi with four. Sharing the role of Maddalena are Sondra Radvanovsky (a role debut for her) and Julianna Di Giacomo (seven performances each). Also with seven performances each in the role of Carlo Gérard are veteran Spanish baritone Carlos Alvarez and the American Michael Chioldi.

The purpose of this review is to focus on the second cast, the question being do they satisfy the demands of the work? The answer is definitely “yes”. I once attended a well-prepared performance at a theatre I won’t name, and everything was fine except they had hired a tenor who lacked the vocal power required for the title role. Mercifully Jorge de León has the necessary amplitude plus (very important) his clarion tone never degenerates into a bellow. There are moments when a greater degree of nuance would have been welcome (for example it’s nice when a word like poema is given a nimbus), but he builds each of his big numbers effectively, and the final duet with the soprano is volcanic.

Julianna Di Giacomo adroitly lightens her voice for Act I when Maddalena is still a naive young lady; her voice assumes a spinto tone and heft once her character’s life has taken its harrowing turn with the arrival of the revolution. She received a very nice ovation for «La mamma morta». The baritone role claims centre stage right from the start which Michael Chioldi ably achieves; he also received a fine ovation for «Nemico de la patria». As far as I can tell this was his European debut in a staged opera - he seemed pleased with his reception as well he should be.

David McVicar’s production deftly establishes vivid characterization even in smaller roles, such as that of Mathieu (Manel Esteve), a shabby firebrand with sexual urges for the many merveilleuses. Making a striking effect both vocally and dramatically is the young Argentine bass-baritone, Fernando Radó, in the sympathetic role of Chénier’s friend, Roucher. Elena Zaremba in the cameo role of Madelon was a fine example of luxury casting.

Pinchas Steinberg also conducted Chénier at the Liceu in 2007; it must have gone well then, as it certainly did this time.

Michael Johnson



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