RCA 1976 – Placido Domingo, Renata Scotto, Sherill Milnes; James Levine

This is probably the best overall choice of the studio recordings. The often bland Domingo as the revolutionary poet here is full of youthful ardor with a heroic ring in the voice. Milnes is smoldering – next to Bastianini, the best Gérard. Scotto is typically squally on the high notes but riveting in the drama. She starts “La mamma morta” with truly heartfelt singing, but as the aria progresses, the voice shows its lack of weight. I don’t believe that she ever sang the role in an opera house … a wise choice. Truly exciting conducting from Levine; he captures the grand sweep of the Revolutionary drama more forcefully than any other conductor. One really wants to applaud the moment Domingo and Scotto let go of their last note. My belief has always been never to interrupt the music with applause but somehow, this opera, if the audience doesn’t interrupt, something has gone dreadfully wrong.

Just a quick mention, there’s a wonderful Domingo 1977 performance with Martina Arroyo that is definitely worth seeking out. It’s on Met Opera on Demand.

Decca 1982 – Luciano Pavarotti, Montserrat Caballé, Leo Nucci; Riccardo Chailly

Like those soirées at Violetta Valery’s and Mme. de Coigny’s, most casts of productions and especially recordings are peopled with “names” among the supernumerary and comprimario parts, none more so than this Decca recording. Astrid Varnay as Mme. de Coigny might be overdoing charitable casting, but the vignette that Christa Ludwig creates of the blind Madelon is so touchingly drawn that it gives distinction. Piero de Palma, the ubiquitous comprimario, as the spy Incredible gives an object-lesson in acting with the voice. Tom Krause is Chénier’s friend Roucher. And the masterful Hugues Cuenod, who was 80 at the time, is (to quote the libretto) the “aging” novelist, Fléville.

Without question, this is the most beautifully sung Andrea Chénier. Granted, Luciano comes across as making one of his personal appearances, but the vocal splendor is never in doubt, even if he doesn’t know what he’s singing about. Regardless, it is massively an improvement from the buffoonery of the Met ’96 video. Similarly, Mme. Caballé appears to be checking in till she gives a stupendous “La mamma morta.” Nucci is there. Strangely, this is the most dramatically conducted performance, even more urgent than the poetical Levine. Chailly has a strong sense of the theatre. He proves this again with the much more recent 2017 ROH performances with Anna Netrebko.

Sony 1987 – José Carreras, Eva Marton, Giorgio Zancanaro; Giuseppe Patané

This should probably be called The Hungarian Affair. With the exception of the Chénier, the Gérard, and the conductor, everyone is Hungarian. I don’t think that has anything to do with the whole thing sounding like it had been recorded in a cave. Not surprisingly, José Carreras is overparted especially up against the Maddalena of Eva Marton. I had neglected hearing Marton’s Gioconda when I wrote about that opera; I did hear it and was overwhelmed by her performance. Here, instead of being overwhelming, she overwhelms. Zancanaro sings the notes. One would have expected more of Patané. I believe this is the last studio recording and as such is a major disappointment.


If one wants a performance with Carreras, and a VIDEO at that, I recommend the 1979 Barcelona performance with him, Caballé (who as always looks like his mother), and a wonderful sounding Juan Pons as Gérard, very different from the Met 1992. Wretched video quality but, ah!, the singing!


Even better, a truly stupendous final duet from Chénier at the 1983 Met Centennial Gala – a pretty José, a pretty voice from Montse, and pretty spectacular – a highlight of highlights!

Also from that same year but a different Gala – Domingo-Milnes-Levine Concert – is Placido Domingo singing a thrilling “Un dì … all’azzurro spazio” (Improvviso)

And always worth repeating is always the finale with Tebaldi and Corelli

Complete videos… 

La Scala/Tokyo 1961 – Mario Del Monaco, Renata Tebaldi, Aldo Protti; Franco Capuana.

Already discussed above.

Met 10/15/96 – Luciano Pavarotti, Maria Guleghina, Juan Pons; James Levine.  Available on Met on Demand.

This is just sad and I don’t want to talk about it.

ROH 2015 – Jonas Kaufmann, Eva Maria Westbrook, Zelko Lucic; Antonio Pappano.

Instantly recognizable as a David McVicar production – that’s not an opinion, just a statement. As I tried to do this somewhat chronologically, this was the next to last performance I watched or listened to. When I put it on, I immediately remembered that I had watched it two weeks before and had absolutely no memory of it. That’s my review!

La Scala 2017 – Yusif Eyvazov, Anna Netrebko, Luca Salsi; Riccardo Chailly – complete not available online, only commercial DVD. However, there is Netrebko’s wonderful “La mamma morta.”

I had little hope for this, but it’s really good and for a video. It’s my No. 1 recommendation. I would like to think that a director cannot really mess up a production of this opera – it is too set in time and place, one never knows though how perverse a director can get. In any case, this is by no means a lavish (think: expensive) production, and it’s somewhat abstract but it is very handsome, other than the distracting, distorted, fun-house reflections in the mirrors that look like animated images of Munch’s The Scream. It utilizes a turntable very effectively to change scenes, not to make the audience dizzy. Yusif Eyvazov does not have much of an attractive voice, though it gets better as he warms up (or one gets used to it), but he sings well albeit no match for Mrs. Eyvazov. Anna Netrebko is at her inimitable best here. Not surprisingly, she is the real star for this Opening Night of the Season performance. Luca Salsi is an appropriate Gérard. 35 years after his 1982 Decca recording, Riccardo Chailly still conducts a wonderful Chénier.


As I said at the beginning, there are many, many videos of Chénier that can be found online or on OperaOnVideo, but life is too short and I’ve named the ones I feel are the most pertinent.

On May 30th, the raison d’être for this essay, the Royal Opera has a revival of the McVicar production with an all-star cast – at least on paper. Jonas Kaufmann is the Chénier if he shows up … his record lately rivals Caballé’s availabilities for cancellations … and the fact that he was clearly not in good voice for the recent Gioconda’s in Vienna and Naples does not bode well. Sondra Radvanovsky should be good. Amartuvshin Enkhbat should be wonderful. He was the magnificent Germont père in the recent Met/Jaho performances of Traviata and I look forward to his Gérard.

So a quick summing up:

  • Best Live performance: Corelli & Tebaldi Met 1966.
  • Dream Cast: Corelli, Tebaldi, Bastianini – yes, that combination exists, at Vienna 1960, but don’t be mis-lead. For whatever reason, the performance doesn’t work. Go with the above.
  • Best Studio recording: RCA – Domingo, Scotto, Milnes; Levine
  • Best Video: La Scala 2017 – Eyvasov, Netrebko, Salsi; Chailly

I know it is with great regret that I cannot find it online anymore, because after all this I know you would all be dying to hear “La Mamma Morta Sung by 62 Different Divas.” Oh, and there’s also a disc of Tebaldi singing it 12 different times!

And worse, you could have avoided reading all the above and gone directly to this site:

Best & Worst Recordings of Andrea Chénier:

Regards, Andy (… IMHO)