ChenierUmberto Giordano - Andrea Chénier

Armel Opera Festival, Sgezed, Hungary 2012 | Tamás Pal, Géza Bodolay, Leïla Zlassi, Eduardo Aladrén, Attila Reti, Júlia Vajda, Zsófia Kalnay, Tamás Altorjay, Antal Cseh, Éva Szonda, János Szerekován, Szilveszter Szelpal, Ferenc Herczeg, Milán Taletovics, Zoltán Lorincz | Internet streaming - ARTE Live Web, 6 October 2012

There is only one standard repertory opera in the 5th Armel Opera Festival competition at Sgezed in Hungary - and even then Giordano’s verismo French Revolution piece Andrea Chénier is not that commonly performed - but it’s one that at least gives two of the competition finalists the opportunity to sing in a style that is a little more traditional than the other four modern works produced here. Although the demands of the work might be different, Andrea Chénier is however no less challenging in terms of the singing and acting ability that can only be measured in competition by performance in a fully staged work, and fortunately both competitors here proved capable and well suited here to the more classic style of performance.

Géza Bodolay’s staging of the work for the Szeged National Theatre obviously had to work with a budget considerably less than the one available to the Bregenz Festival for their 2011 lake staging (the entire stage modelled on a giant construction of the famous painting of the Death of Marat), but with good period costumes and making good use of the chorus for party-goers and crowd scenes, the director was able with the minimum of props and sets to get a sense nonetheless of the final decadence of the French aristocrats and the horrendous fate that awaits them in the coming Terror. The use of a dark silent figure with a white face to represent the Terror and the guillotine (although one of those was present on the stage as well) also served to heighten the reality and horror of the situation. It was the small touches that counted here, like the use of revolving panels at the back of the stage to depict the imprisonment and torture of Bersi and Chénier, but they also allowed crowds to quickly swarm onto the set. This would have been an effective strategy for the Act I confrontation organised by Gérard between the common people and the aristocrats, but the director chose to set the people among the audience for this key scene.

The choice of opera and the stage direction then provided a more than adequate platform to show the skills of Leïla Zlassi in the role of Maddalena and Eduardo Aladrén as Chénier. There were perhaps a few minor problems in with pitch and range in the Act 1 arias, but by-and-large both singers coped well with the singing and acting demands of the roles. Eduardo Aladrén made the necessary strong and charismatic impression as Chénier in Act I, and sustained this well in collaboration with Zlassi through the subsequent acts, the duets at the end of Act II and Act IV in particular being well presented. Zlassi’s Act III aria, ‘La mamma morta‘ was excellent, performed with real feeling and good technique. If there was anything lacking in the performances of both singers, it was perhaps that they lacked the necessary force and stamina required for the roles, but they were clearly capable of making the roles come to life and achieve the necessary impact.

The role of Gérard is no less vital for the work than Maddalena or Chénier however, and it needs a little more charisma and dynamism than Attila Reti’s was able to provide. Capably sung and performed, his baritone lacked any real colour and his acting was all directed out towards the audience. A strong overall production, the Szeged Symphony Orchestra directed by Tamás Pal giving a good account of the work, the strength of the performances right across the board in all the little colourful secondary characters and in the chorus work, provided a strong base for the work and demonstrated that it’s the little details that count and which give Andrea Chénier all the dynamic and character that lies within its verismo subject.

The Armel Opera Festival production of Andrea Chénier is currently available to view on-line from the ARTE Live Web site.