About Superconductor

Our motto: "Critical thinking in the cheap seats." Unbiased, honest classical music and opera opinions, occasional obituaries and classical news reporting, since 2007. All written content © 2018 by Paul J. Pelkonen. For more about Superconductor, visit this link. For advertising rates, click this link. Follow us on Facebook.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Opera Review: Start the Revolution Without Me

Andrea Chenier at the Met.
The historic Andrea Chenier.
The final performance this season of Umberto Giordano's most famous opera, Andrea Chenier, featured a strong performance by Canadian heldentenor Ben Heppner in the title role, opposite the emotional Maddalena of Violetta Urmana. Heppner is known primarily as a Wagner tenor (he is scheduled to sing Tristan at the Met next year) but has roots in verismo. (His first complete opera recording was an RCA Turandot conducted by Roberto Abbado) Here, he was in excellent lyric voice, conveying the title character's mix of poetry, politics and passion with a full flood of tone underpinned by a strong, flexible voice.

Violeta Urmana began her Met season with a tremendous performance in the title role of La Gioconda in September. On Wednesday night, her Maddalena presented a suitable followup. She sang a beautiful, heartfelt "La mamma morta" (an aria which became famous in the 1990s after being featured in the Tom Hanks film Philadelphia and portrayed Maddalena with nobility and tragic resignation. Her final vocal face-off with Heppner's Chenier recalled the final act of Siegfried a vocal apotheosis of joyous love laughing in the shadow of la guillotine.

Veteran baritone Juan Pons was rock-solid as Gerard, the servant, turned revolutionary. The Spanish baritone, following up his superb December run in Rigoletto captured all the facets of this character who is almost as complex as Verdi's jester. Gerard starts the story as an idealistic revolutionary, striking down Maddalena's family of French nobles and whipping the people into a frenzy.

As Chenier skips five years and develops, the French Revolution devolves into the Reign of Terror. Citizen Gerard (as he is now known) becomes a zealous politician, corrupted by his desire to possess Maddalena. This motivates him to write out the false confession that sentences the poet to death. However, there is a redemptive side to Gerard. In front of the tribunal at Chenier's trial, Gerard chooses to recant his testimony in front of the entire court, putting his own neck on the line. (His withdrawal of the evidence is ignored, and Chenier is sentenced to death anyway. Vive la republique!

All three singers needed all of their strength on Wednesday night, because conductor Marco Armiliato was off his leash in the orchestra pit. The conductor recalled the later years of Herbert von Karajan with his mix of slow tempi and stentorian volume, both of which threatened to wear out and drown out the singers. (In a show of maestro-itis, Armiliato came out and took a solo bow in front of the curtain, something that most Met conductors are loathe to do. To their credit, the audience in the Balcony and Family Circle greeted him with faint applause.)

Both Heppner and Urmana are well equipped to cope with such adverse conditions, but other singers had trouble penetrating this wall of sound. Despite the orchestral overkill, strong character performances were given by David Cangelosi (as the spy Le Incredibile), Kirstin Chavez (as Bersi) and most movingly, mezzo-soprano Irina Mishura in the small but scene-stealing role as the widow Madelon.

Right: Portrait of the poet, Andrea Chenier.
Left: The Radical Arms, 1819 political cartoon by George Cruikshank

All images courtesy Wikipedia.

Trending on Superconductor


Share My Blog!

Share |

Critical Thinking in the Cheap Seats

My photo

Since 2007, Superconductor has grown from an occasional concert or CD review to a near-daily publication covering classical music, opera and the arts in and around NYC, with excursions to Boston, Philadelphia, and upstate NY. I am a freelance writer living and working in Brooklyn NY. And no, I'm not a conductor.