Some of the best news of the year to date came last week when Jonas Kaufmann announced that he feels ready to return to the stage after calling in sick since last autumn: he will head to Paris for Lohengrin next week (meanwhile dropping out of the opening of the new concert hall in Hamburg). Since his Swan Knight has been posted at Mixcloud for some time, we’ll dedicate our wishes for his continuing good health with a 2015 London performance of Andrea Chénier with Eva-Maria Westbroek and Zeljko Lucic.
Giordano’s most highly-regarded work had dropped in popularity in the second half of the 20th century, and is now often regarded as a guilty pleasure, somewhat like Adriana Lecouvreur. Just as Cilea’s work needs a true diva for the title role, Andrea Chénier demands the top tenors of the day.
During its initial popularity after its 1896 premiere at La Scala, interpreters of the lead role included Francesco Tamagno, Giovanni Zenatello, Enrico Caruso, Giovanni Martinelli, Aureliano Pertile, Francesco Merli, Beniamino Gigli, Giacomo Lauri-Volpi, and Antonio Cortis. After World War II it became a calling card of Franco Corelli, Richard Tucker, and Mario del Monaco, and was then passed on to Carlo Bergonzi, Plácido Domingo and Luciano Pavarotti. Since then, it’s become rarer and rarer.
Performances of the 1954 Met production became less frequent to the point that when it was last dragged on stage more than 20 years later, it was literally falling apart.
My most memorable performance was in Budapest in 2007 starring Attila Fekete, one of my favorite tenors in the Verdi and verismo repertoire, along with Eva Bátori and Mihály Kálmándi.
In an opera where there always seem to be at least one weak link (my most recent viewing, a Bregenzer Festspiele performance in 2011, had blazing performances from Roy Cornelius Smith and Ángeles Blancas Gulín, but a Gérard who vocally and dramatically had no business in a leading dramatic baritone role), the Budapest cast was equally talented and balanced (despite the Madelon of Lívia Budai, who bolted from the USA after four Azucenas in the Met’s 1987 new production of Il trovatore about which the British magazine Opera said she “hooted inexpressively and unmusically from several separate registers”). The production was so perfectly directed and designed and the performances so dedicated that it actually increased my appreciation of Giordano.
Photo © ROH. Bill Cooper 2015