Umberto Giordano's fascinating verismo opera is here given an impressive outing by La Scala Milan. The opera is set during the French Revolution and concerns the love between Chénier (José Carreras) and Maddalena di Coigny (Eva Marton). A servant Gérard (Bass, Piero Cappuccilli), who also loves Maddalena, looks on resentfully. Gérard is about to join the revolution. He has a touching scene with his elderly father "You have fathered servants " then tosses off his livery and sets off for Paris. This prompts Maddalena's mother to remark "That Gérard, reading has ruined him"
We then see Gérard as an important figure in the revolution. Andrea and Maddalena fear for their lives. When Andrea is captured, Maddalena offers herself to Gérard in order to save him. Shades of Tosca perhaps, but.Gérard is no Scarpio, he is a complicated and honourable man. He gives up Maddalena to Andrea and defends him at his trial.
Andrea is sentenced to death and Maddalena smuggles herself into his cell so that she can die with him (Aida?). They sing that "Our death is the triumph of love" (Tristan & Isolde?) then joyfully mount the steps together to the guillotine. Not a dry eye in the house.
I loved it and, despite my implication that some of the emotional situations are familiar from other composers, the plot is quite original and enthralling for an opera. José Carreras may be known as the third tenor but his performance here is first rate, bringing the house down with his Act I aria. Piero Cappuccilli is also sensational as Gérard, getting an even bigger ovation from La Scala's audience for his big set-piece. Eva Marton does not quite measure up to this exalted company and she looks as though she could eat Carreras for breakfast. Her final scene, waiting for the chop is, however, genuinely moving.
This film, directed by the venerable Brian Large, seems to have been shot using just three cameras, as was the norm in 1985. The sound quality is also a bit iffy but that should not put off anyone from seeking out this thrilling piece of opera film history.
There is another excellent version of this opera made in the same year starring Plácido Domingo at Covent Garden. I have not seen it recently but, from memory, this José Carreras version is marginally preferable.
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