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Andrea Chénier, Umberto Giordano’s quintessentially Italian ode to the French Revolution, oozes operatic blood, sweat and gush. It is brash and lusty, sweet and sentimental, broad and bombastic. It dabbles shamelessly and, yes, effectively in second-hand verismo virtuosity. It isn’t subtle.
A proper performance demands, above all, three singers who can rattle rafters, especially in ascending passages. They should do so, moreover, with competitive passion sporadically offset by introspective suavity. Such singers are rare birds.
The current revival at the Met settles for reasonable facsimiles. Everyone works diligently. Everyone struts dutifully. Nearly everyone makes a mighty noise when it counts most: at climax time. Marco Armiliato enforces propulsion in the pit. Still, the result seems oddly restrained.
The central attraction on Thursday was Ben Heppner, an exceptionally smart tenor most celebrated in Wagnerian trenches. He brought heft and stamina to the exposed top-tones, achieved less impact below. He phrased with precision, exuded portly dignity. He couldn’t convey the ardour of a poetic firebrand, however, and didn’t caress the line with latinesque sensuality. Maddalena, the sacrificial object of Chénier’s idealistic affections, was portrayed by Violeta Urmana. She has transformed her once-lush mezzo-soprano into a rather wiry dramatic-soprano, but she still savours clarity and a pretty mezza-voce. Carlo Gerard, the big baritonal counterforce, was Mark Delavan, lusty in moments of power, breathy in passages of repose.
The supporting cast included Charles Taylor, strikingly mellifluous as Roucher; Irina Mishura, gently poignant as Madelon; John Del Carlo, nicely blustery as Mathieu; Patrick Carfizzi, elegant as Fléville; Michaela Martens, attractive as the Countess de Coigny; Maria Zifchak, earthy as Bersi; and David Cangelosi, rather bland as L’Incredibile, the sly spy.
Nicolas Joël’s conventional production, first seen in 1996 and now entrusted to Sharon Thomas, turns silly only when the violent masses are herded into orderly choral formations. Herbert Monloup’s picturesque décors flirt timidly with stylisation. For better or worse – probably worse – tasteful sight complements tasteful sound. The Met has mustered an operatic oxymoron, a neat Andrea Chénier.
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