Cher Public

Start the revolution without me

“Trove Thursday” commemorates Umberto Giordano’s 150th birthday with an unusual performance of his best-known opera Andrea Chenier where an unexpected Canadian star-tenor relishes beheading alongside a far less well-known Italian diva: Jon Vickers and Ilva Ligabue

Born in 1867, Giordano composed Chenier before he was 30 and never had a lasting success to match it except perhaps Fedora which premiered two years later and is done here and there. The operas he wrote in the 20th century are rarely heard although Mirella Freni late in her career took up Madame Sans-Gêne which premiered at the Met in 1915 with Arturo Toscanini conducting Geraldine Farrar and Giovanni Martinelli.

I have to admit that Chenier is probably the best-known opera I’ve never experienced live. The opera usually strikes me a few hit tunes with a lot of not every interesting stuff in between, but obviously that might be a minority opinion as it’s a work that has many advocates. For some reason, it’s always paired in my mind with La Gioconda even though they were written more than 20 years apart, but I have seen the Ponchielli twice and I did do Fedora though.

It’s not that I couldn’t have gone; since I moved to New York the Met has featured Nicola Martinucci, Luciano Pavarotti, Placido Domingo, Ben Heppner and Marcelo Alvarez in the showy title role and Roberto Alagna also performed it in a flop of a concert at Avery Fisher Hall.  Jonas Kaufmann is the latest divo to make the opera his own albeit only in Europe. So far he’s done new productions in London and Munich while this season he revives the role in Munich and brings it to Barcelona and Vienna.

When La Scala announced it was opening this season with a new Chenier, I hadn’t yet learned of the birthday anniversary. However, it does seem strange that the “star” of the show is its Maddalena, Anna Netrebko. I’m most curious how the notoriously volatile Milanese public will respond to Yusif Eyvazov’s assumption of its quintessentially Italian tenor role.

I had originally thought that these Dallas performances were a one-off for Vickers, but it turned out that he had done the title role a number of times earlier in his career. In 1961 at the Lyric Opera of Chicago he was paired with the exotically named Syrian soprano Shakeh Vartenissian as Maddalena. That year he also appeared as Chenier in Vienna with the idiomatic cast of Gerda Scheyrer and Eberhard Wächter!

Like his Riccardo in Ballo, it’s not surprising that he didn’t essay the role at the Met. During that time, the house had Franco Corelli, Richard Tucker, Carlo Bergonzi…and Daniele Barioni for Chenier. This Dallas pirate, however, documents his final run of the opera.

I suspect if someone mentions Ligabue most opera-lovers would think of her in connection with just one role: Alice Ford in Falstaff which she recorded complete twice along with an LP of highlights. She never sang at the Met but appeared at least once in New York in a concert performance of Donizetti’s Maria di Rohan which apparently didn’t go over well. She sang in Chicago in Mefistofele and Il Trovatore and at least one other time in Dallas in Otello. It would seem these Maddalenas were her final appearances in the US.

She had a wide-ranging international career that seems to have centered around three composers—Mozart, Verdi and… Cherubini? Unexpected as it may seem there are recordings of Ligabue in the latter’s Ali Baba, L’hôtellerie portugaise, Pimmalione and Lodoïska.

Giordano: Andrea Chenier
Dallas Civic Opera
30 November 1973
in-house recording

Maddalena – Ilva Ligabue
Bersi – Nancy Williams
Madelon – Lili Chookasian
Countess de Coigny – Jan Curtis
Andrea Chenier – Jon Vickers
Carlo Gérard – Silvano Carroli
L’incredibile/Abbé – Piero de Palma
Roucher – Lenus Carlson

Conductor – Nicola Rescigno

This week’s French Revolution potboiler as well as last week’s Rimsky melodrama can each be downloaded by clicking on the icon of a square with an arrow pointing downward on the posting’s audio player and the resulting mp3 file will appear in your download directory.

More than 100 other “Trove Thursday” podcasts also remain available from iTunes (recently updated) or via any RSS reader.

  • Delighted to see Boston colleague Jan Curtis in this Chenier — she appeared in several operas I designed back in the day.

    And I politely protest the term “potboiler” for Andrea Chenier. I am with the school that accords it some admiration for its melodic strength and craftsmanship, the strong characterizations and the highly effective arias sung by those characters.

  • Herb Fontecilla

    Vickers sang Chenier with Tebaldi with the Met on tour.

    • CCorwinNYC

      Did he? The Met archives (occasionally imperfect) doesn’t show it. Perhaps you’re thinking of Otello which they did together out of town--I know pirates exist of both the Atlanta and Newport performances.

      • Herb Fontecilla

        Yes, my mistake. It was Otello that TebaldI sang with Vickers on tour and elsewhere.

  • Dan Patterson

    Thanks so much for posting this WONDERFUL performance. Vickers was unique, with an outsized stage presence and that instantly recognizable voice. Not that familiar with Ligabue, but she’s impressive here, matching Vickers in intensity. A splendid performance in wonderful sound. Thanks again!

  • Scott

    The Decca (formerly RCA) recording of Falstaff with Sir Geraint Evans was originally to have been made with Tebaldi as Alice Ford, but it was recorded in the year when she cancelled everything due to her vocal crisis. Ligabue is a fine substitute. Later, one of the last roles Tebaldi did at the Met was Alice Ford. I was lucky enough to see one of the performances she did with Evans. I thought she was wonderful in the role, even at that late date in her career.

    • Armerjacquino

      Ligabue made something of a speciality of Alice Ford, I think.

      My parents saw her twice- as an apparently disappointing Countess in NOZZE (with the otherwise spectacular lineup of Freni, Berganza, Gobbi and Evans- I think she may have been a subsitute for someone else, possibly Schwarzkopf?) and in a stunning RFH Verdi Requiem under Giulini, in the DVD of which you can see them rapt in the second row.

      • southerndoc1

        you can see them wrapped in the second row

        you can see them rapped in the second row

        All sorts of possibilities.

      • agh1

        Yes, I heard her as Alice Ford several times with Glyndebourne, at the ROH and in Aix. She was very mpressive not only in this role but also as Fiordiligi and Donna Elvira. The performance at which I believe I was to have heard her in Rome as Maddalena with Bruson as Carlo was cancelled because of a strike of chorus, stagehands or orchestra -- a pity for it meant I never heard Bruson in the flesh which greatly disappointed me. Perhaps, as you suggest, the ROH Solti performances of NOZZE were planned with Schwarzkopf in mind, but at the first performances, which I attended, the Countess was sung by Joan Carlyle. I think Ligabue was always programmed to sing some of the later ones.

  • Rowna Sutin

    My favorite clip of Ligabue -- with Corelli. https://youtu.be/hK1PtoyITCQ

  • All Ears

    Anna Netrebko and Yusif Eyvazov (as opposed to any other Annas and Yusifs out there) closed their Sydney concert two days ago with a fabulous Vicino a te, after a very Italianate programme, and before the single encore of O Solo Mio, into which Anna entwined herself, and the orchestra, banging drums and things.

  • Opera Teen

    Interesting to see Ligabue again here. I understand why her Alice Ford must have been successful -- she must have the ebullience and clarity to pull it off. I came to know her through a radio broadcast recording of “Francesca da Rimini” (I went through a Zandonai FdR phase several years ago) and she was a total snoozer. No drama and a luminescent but unvaried tone. Just not a good fit.

  • Camille

    What a treasure indeed. Where will I find the time to listen to it? Maybe Saturday night.

    I only saw him one time but that once was ENOUGH to know he was something other and utterly unique.

    Other than her famous Alice, I know Signora Ligabue not at all, so I look forward to this encounter in midst of the Terror.

  • DonCarloFanatic

    Thanks. I’m always struck by the daintiness of the music surrounding the aristos in the first act. I expected blood and guts, which was why I passed up the opportunity to see it circa 1974 in NYC. I don’t recall if it was at the Met or the NY City Opera. Probably the latter.

    • grimoaldo2

      Yes, “Andrea Chenier” moves from daintiness to blood and guts, one reason why I like it. I love the riches to rags story.
      The recent webcast from Munich with Kaufmann and Harteros was just tremendous, this is also a very enjoyable performance, thanks CC.

  • Susan Szbornak

    What’s even odder about having a career focused on Cherubini is that apparently Medea/Médée was not in her repertoire…

  • Baron Douphol

    Saw Ligabue as a very glamorous and passionate Tosca in Monte Carlo with Gobbi and Cecchele. It was quite a performance in that little jewel box of a theater

    • Delmonaco

      I have a live recording of one of those performances. 1972. That must have been an experience!

  • Benedetta Funghi-Trifolati

    I saw Ligabue in 1968 when the Teatro dell’Opera di Roma visited the Met. She was the Countess in a very interesting, all-Italian LE NOZZE DI FIGARO, mounted in a stunning Visconti production, conducted by Carlo Maria Giulini, and featuring Rolando Panerai (Figaro), Bianca Maria Casoni (Cherubino), Graziella Sciutti (Susanna) and Tito Gobbi (Conte).

    • Bill

      Bemedetta -- I saw this Rome Nozze as well and aside
      from the opulent Visconti production and the conducting I was not so impressed with the singing though Panerai, Sciutti and Gobbi were all familiar to me from other opera performances in Europe. I recall also they did the Rossini
      Otello an opera I have never since encountered.