Accessibility links


Sign In
  • Home
  • News
  • Opera Essentials: Andrea Chénier

Opera Essentials: Andrea Chénier

Our quick guide to Umberto Giordano's passionate tale of love and loss in the French Revolution.

By Kate Hopkins (Content Producer (Opera and Music))

7 January 2015 at 12.11pm | 1 Comment

The Story Begins…
The poet Andrea Chénier finds his ideals sorely tested by the horrors of Robespierre’s Reign of Terror. Chénier and former aristocrat Maddalena di Coigny fall in love, but the lustful intentions of Carlo Gérard – a servant in Maddalena’s home who becomes a powerful Revolutionary official – threaten the love and lives of the couple.

From a True Story
Giordano’s opera is loosely based on events in the life of André Chénier (1762–94), a French writer condemned to death by Robespierre for his satirical poems about the French Revolution. The romantic element in the opera was an invention of Giordano’s librettist Luigi Illica, who also heightened Chénier’s Revolutionary sympathies: the real Chénier was a moderate monarchist who had mixed feelings about the Revolution.

Sublime Arias
Giordano mixes conversational, lyrical and declamatory elements in his naturalistic vocal style for Andrea Chénier. Besides the evocations of mood and depictions of swift-moving action through the opera, there are some strikingly beautiful arias, including Chénier’s ardent ‘Un dì all’azzurro spazio’, Gérard’s melancholy monologue ‘Nemico della patria’ and Maddalena’s heartfelt ‘La mamma morta’ (a favourite aria of Maria Callas). The closing duet provides a particularly stirring operatic finale.

Evoking the Revolution
David McVicar’s production evokes the opulence of Pre-Revolution life, and the dread-laden atmosphere and violence of the Terror. The libretto is full of factual references to people and events, which are complemented through historically-informed sets and costumes by Robert Jones and Jenny Tiramani.

Giordano’s Great Success
Andrea Chénier was a great success at its premiere at La Scala, Milan, on 28 March 1896. It established Giordano as a leading member of Italy’s giovane scuola, and has remained Giordano’s most popular opera, with occasional productions at leading opera houses. This production is the first by The Royal Opera since 1984. Of Giordano’s later operas, only Fedora (1898) has continued to attract interest.

The production is a co-production with the National Centre for the Performing Arts, Beijing, and San Francisco Opera, and is given with generous philanthropic support from Mrs Aline Foriel-Destezet, Mrs Susan A. Olde OBE, Simon and Virginia Robertson, Spindrift Al Swaidi, Mercedes T. Bass and Mrs Trevor Swete.

By Kate Hopkins (Content Producer (Opera and Music))

7 January 2015 at 12.11pm

This article has been categorised Opera and tagged André Chénier, Andrea Chénier, by David McVicar, essentials, French Revolution, history, Luigi Illica, Opera Essentials, Production, Robespierre, terror, Umberto Giordano

This article has 1 comment

  1. Everything is pointing to this production being vastly superior to the rather dreary one seen again at the Met last year.
    Cannot wait for opening night 20 January! Flying in from Melbourne for the occasion!

Comment on this article

Your email will not be published

Website URL is optional