Of the four Andrea Cheniers I've seen, my favourite is the 1973 production with Corelli, Casapietra and Cappuccilli, though this and the two 1985 performances(one with Domingo in the title role, the other with Carreras). I love the opera, it is for me one of the great Verismo operas, with a dark, tragic story, compelling characters(though they, especially the title role are bruisers to sing) and superb music with at least four highlights(L'Improvvisso, La Mamma Morta, Nemico Della Patria and the final scene). This is a great Andrea Chenier, with opulent costumes and a very realistic setting for the château in the opening act. The sound, picture quality and camera work are equally fine, same with the lighting mostly. I personally don't get the reasons for booing Otto Schenk (and most likely the staging). Was it because Schenk focused on the interaction and relationships of the characters? I actually thought the drama benefited from it. For me, the only sore spot of the staging was the final prison scene, which was too messy and darkly lit.
From a musical point of view, the production is outstanding. There is a lot of lushness in the orchestral playing which is perfect for the understated accompaniment of La Mamma Morta and the sweeping feel of Nemico Della Patria, yet giving the final scene its necessary power. Nello Santi's conducting is suitably idiomatic. Placido Domingo is a superb Andrea Chenier. The best in the role? Perhaps not quite, I love Franco Corelli, Franco Bonisoli and Mario DelMonaco very much, but Domingo with his burnished tone, some of his clearest ever diction, outstanding musicality and the ability to embody every role on stage he plays is certainly up there with the best. And his L'Improvvisso is riveting.
Gabriella Benackova of the four Maddelenas on DVD so far that I've seen(Celestina Casapietra, Anna Tomowa-Sintow and Eva Marton being the others) is the most musical and has the most beautiful voice, though my absolute favourite Maddalena is Renata Tebaldi. The legato and breath control are stunning and make for a very moving La Mamma Morta. She is also very refined and passionate especially in her duets with Domingo. Piero Cappuccilli again proves why Carlo Gerard, the revolutionary with a conscience, is one of his best roles alongside Renato, Simon Boccanegra and Iago. I have known people to criticise him for being stolid, I don't agree as, while I find Ettore Bastianini, Giuseppe Taddei and Sherrill Milnes a little more characterful, here he comes across as strong and forthright. Vocally it is a beautiful voice with a near-perfect technique, and he pulls out the stops with Nemico Della Patria, where you really feel Gerard's conflict.
In the support cast, Fedora Barbieri, in one of her few late roles, stands out as Madelon. It is not her at her best, I just love her Azucena in the 1957 Il Trovatore with Leyla Gencer, DelMonaco and Bastianini, but it was a vocally rich and dramatically strong cameo performance. She also did not deserve the booing she got, almost as if Vienna didn't recognise her as one of the greatest Verdi mezzos of the 50s-60s. Other than the final prison scene, I wasn't taken by the constant applause that went on forever, now I know this is part of the performance, but it is distracting when the singers have to break out of character to accept it, and I got the sense that they, particularly Domingo, was reluctant to do so. All in all, great production, that is a must see for the leads. 9/10 Bethany Cox
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