Chelsea Opera Andrea Chénier

Andrea Chénier

Andrea Chénier – Julian Gavin
Maddalena – Claire Rutter
Gérard – Simon Neal
Fléville / Fouquier-Tinville – George Mosley
Roucher – Keel Watson
Madelon – Pauline Tinsley
Contessa di Coigny – Elizabeth Sikora
Bersi – Jacqueline Miura
L’Incredibile / The Abbé – Christopher Lemmings
Mathieu – Andrew Mayor
Major domo / Dumas / Schmidt – Ewan Taylor

Chelsea Opera Group Chorus and Orchestra
Brad Cohen

Reviewed by: John T. Hughes

Reviewed: 6 June, 2004
Venue: Queen Elizabeth Hall, London

Following Chelsea Opera Group’s highly enjoyable Ermione in February it was the turn of verismo, coming in the form of Giordano’s Andrea Chénier, a work with a juicy role for the tenor, who has four splendid arias. In no Puccini opera is a tenor so well catered for.

Giordano also wrote a meaty role for a baritone and a greatly satisfying one for soprano, together with some interesting vignettes among the other parts, including three or so effective minutes as old Madelon offers her grandson as a recruit to the Revolutionary cause: a touching cameo for a senior singer. COG scored a point there. Looking down the cast-list beforehand I suddenly saw that Madelon was to be none other than Pauline Tinsley, now 76. Madelon is really a role for a mezzo-soprano, and Tinsley showed that she still has enough vocal strength on top to make a positive contribution. It was good to see her again.

Chénier was sung by Julian Gavin, whose somewhat unusual but not unpleasant vocal production exhibited little vibrato: a straight tone suggested Germanic rather than Italianate leanings, but he pretty well sailed through, if pushed a little in the final duet (one of the best of the opera), where conductor Brad Cohen seemed to forget that the orchestra was not in a pit. (Elsewhere too the orchestra occasionally covered the singers.) Gavin produced enough power, sang some long-breathed phrases and, possibly best of all, was not afraid to fine down the volume and shade his tone.

Claire Rutter seemed initially to lack a strong enough voice for Maddalena: somewhat soft-grained. But Act One does not give her much of an opportunity for sustained outpouring of tone. In aria and duets later she showed that her upper notes had the required power. She too did not settle for monochromy but introduced well-nuanced phrases. The orchestra at full force sometimes drowned the lowest notes. Gérard, once a servant in Maddalena’s family home but now an important supporter of the Revolution, though retaining an affection for the young lady, was sung by Simon Neal, who had been impressive in COG’s La Wally in March 2003. His is a pleasingly warm baritone voice with a good ring to it, easily produced, even if a couple of top notes took him just about to his limit (but not beyond). He produced enough venom in his tone to express Gérard’s anger at the behaviour of the aristocracy as he sung “Son sessant’anni”, the first aria in the opera: Giordano wasting no time in introducing conflict and discontent. It’s worth keeping an eye on this young baritone’s progress.

Some of the smaller roles were doubled (even trebled). Elizabeth Sikora from Covent Garden as the Countess, and George Mosley, Christopher Lemmings and Andrew Mayor made convincing characterisations. The ladies of the chorus sounded rather thin-toned at times (the men were better), but the orchestra certainly seemed to enjoy being unleashed.

It is some years since Andrea Chénier was given at Covent Garden, unfortunately. The first act does contain too much that is trivial, but from Chénier’s aria at the end of that act to the opera’s final duet the tension rarely relaxes. Those four tenor arias, the two for the baritone and Maddalena’s “La mamma morta”, plus a number of duets and ensembles, allow for few arid spaces. COG gave a good showing, as one expects. The following links to previous COG shows make this point admirably

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