Andrea Chénier Opens at La Scala

The season at Teatro alla Scala opens on December 7, on Saint Ambrose, the feast day of Milan’s patron saint. Since the inauguration of the opera house in 1778, La Scala has maintained its reputation as preeminent meeting place for noble and affluent Milanese people. This year the opera that opened the 2017-2018 season is set during the French Revolution and the years that followed, when Paris raged on the tensions between the aristocracy and the third estate: Andrea Chénier.

This opera in four acts — by composer Umberto Giordano, set to an Italian libretto by Luigi Illica — explores the literary movement which peaked between 1875 and the early 1900s in Italy, known as Verismo. In music, this style inspired composers to focus on the average contemporary man and woman and their lives. The Italian word vero, meaning ‘true,’ epitomized the attempt to portray the world with greater realism.

Umberto Giordano was a member of the ‘giovane scuola’ (‘new school’) — an up-and-coming group of young Italian composers that also included Puccini and Mascagni — and was enthralled by the life of the poet André Marie Chénier who lived, wrote and died during the French Revolution, moving in aristocratic circles as a progressive liberal. Tragically, Chénier’s career was brought to an abrupt end when he was guillotined for crimes against the state, near the end of the Reign of Terror, being one of the last people to be executed by Robespierre.

The opera retraces his life intertwining a love story between the poet and a young Countess, Maddalena de Coigny, that he meets in 1789 at the country estate of her family. The poet Andrea Chénier and the servant Carlo Gérard (whose character is partly based on Jean-Lambert Tallien, a leading figure in the Revolution), both love the young Maddalena. When she loses everything in the French Revolution, Chénier offers her protection, and so incites the envy of Gérard, now a powerful official. Chénier is arrested during the Terror and Gérard condemns him, spurred by his jealousy. Maddalena makes a desperate appeal, and Gérard tries to defend Chénier. But it is too late to save the poet’s life, so Gérard helps Maddalena to join Chénier in prison, and the lovers face the guillotine together.

Andrea Chénier was first performed on 28 March 1896 at La Scala and returned on that very same stage more than a hundred years after its first representation and after thirty-two since it was last performed by maestro Riccardo Chailly. The illustrious music director newly conducted with impetus this Verismo opera, celebrating with Andrea Chénier forty years of activity at La Scala. Riccardo Chailly’s effulgent reading of the score, harmoniously conjoined the stage directions by Mario Martone, sets by Margherita Palli, costumes by Ursula Patzak, lighting by Pasquale Mari, and Daniela Schiavone choreographs.

Cinema and theatre director, Mario Martone may boast a propitious relationship with La Scala and with Verismo, since he made his debut in 2011 with Pagliacci and Cavalleria rusticana conducted by Daniel Harding. With Andrea Chénier his crèche directions finely coalesced with Margherita Palli’s sets, depicting the revolutionary setting and political transformation from the lavish Louis XV to austere and minimalist architectural structures, with references to the neoclassical architects Étienne-Louis Boullée and Claude-Nicolas Ledoux.

The operatic Russian soprano Anna Netrebko gave a darling account of Maddalena, alongside her husband Yusif Eyvazov, playing the titular role. The Azerbaijani tenor conveyed heroic allure to Andrea Chénier conquering the hearts of the audience.

Just as enticing were Luca Salsi’s Carlo Gérard and the supporting roles were brightly delivered by Annalisa Stroppa (Bersi, the maid), Mariana Pentcheva (La comtesse de Coigny),  Judit Kutasi (Madelon, an old woman), Gabriele Sagona (Roucher, a friend of Chénier), Costantino Finucci (Pietro Fléville, a novelist), Carlo Bosi (The Incredible, a spy), Gianluca Breda (Fouquier-Tinville, the Public Prosecutor), Francesco Verna (Mathieu, a sans-culotte), Manuel Pierattelli (The Abbé, a poet), Romano Dal Zovo (Schmidt, a jailer at St. Lazare), Riccardo Fassi (Dumas, Master of the Household).

The Première of Andrea Chénier was dedicated to Italian conductor and composer, Victor de Sabata, on the fiftieth anniversary of his death and was broadcast live on RAI 1 and in cinemas around the world.