About this Recording
8.110066-67 - GIORDANO: Andrea Chenier (La Scala) (1928-1931)
English 

Umberto Giordano (1867-1948)

Umberto Giordano (1867 - 1948)

Andrea Chenier

A dramma islorico in four acts, to a libretto by Luigi Illica

 

Umberto Giordano has long suffered from the reputation of being a one-opera composer, which is both unjustified and untrue; but it is fair to say that never again did he repeat the success of Andrea

Chenier. One must not forget his Fedora, Siberia, Madame Sans-Gene and La cena delle beffe, which were all acclaimed by the audiences of their day – those operas dating from 1898 to 1924 - but they are hardly familiar to modern ears, and productions are very few and far between. Even Chenier is not frequently seen in the world's opera houses nowadays; but it has a loyal following and many of the twentieth century's greatest singers have tackled - and triumphed in - the leading roles, both on stage and disc. It is an exact contemporary of Puccini's La Boheme (they were both first staged in 1896), and is a classic example of an opera from the giovane scuola or 'young school' of Italian composers, who came to prominence during the last decade of the 19th century.

 

Chenier is very much the tenor's opera. The hero is given three splendid arias - for he is patriot, lover and poet - and a production's success depends on his ability to thrill. In this performance we hear Luigi Marini, who had already enjoyed a 25 year career when the recording was made. Memories of other great Cheniers were still fresh in people's minds; Gigli and Martinelli had both recently triumphed in the role and Caruso's performances were not so long past. Marini could not hope to rival them in terms of vocal ardour or waves of golden tone, but he acquits himself with some credit when not overstretching in the great set pieces. Try 'Un dl all' azzurro spazio' in Act I; it is fervently attempted but does not achieve the exultant outpouring that suits it best; but then listen to the final duet of Act 4, where Chenier and Maddelena approach the guillotine with defiant resolve. This is heroic singing, and cannot fail to thrill. In the many 'conversational' passages, too, Marini is fine, good with the words, a tenor with 'face' and personality.

Lina Bruna-Rasa gives an extraordinarily mature performance - she was only 23 at the time - and she is better served by the recording than is Marini, (whose notes sometimes 'blast' in loud passages). Clearly hers was a freely produced, gloriously fresh voice and she rides most of the taxing passages with ease; but she has a tendency to add emotional catches to the musical line, which are intrusive and certainly unnecessary (though it is a fault not without modem perpetrators). 'La mamma morta', the soprano's principal aria, does not unduly suffer from this problem and is superbly done, with some fine soft singing. She is interesting too in the additional arias included on CD2 which all pre-date the Chenier recording by three years. Some betray an unexpected vibrato, but the Aida duet with Galeffi (in superb sound, recorded in a more sympathetic acoustic than Chenier) brings out the best in both singers; sparks really fly here. A comparison between the two versions of 'La mamma morta' shows a freer, less affected earlier performance, but the interpretation is better integrated, with a less obvious break between head and chest voices, in the later one.

 

Of all the soloists it is Galeffi who is the star of this set. How well his voice records and what a wealth of colour he brings to ther61e of Gerard Every musical point is made, but not forced, his whole performance is 'natural ' and lives within the drama. What a pleasure to hear his rich, warm tone so well used. It is not surprising that he was greatly admired in ills own time; he should surely be regarded as one of Italy's finest recorded baritones. The whole performance is kept taught by the enigmatic Maestro Molajoli, as he discreetly reins in Lina Bruna-Rasa who, (as some of the individual arias show) sometimes seems eager to hurry along.

 

 

The first complete recorded Chenier is a performance of mixed qualities and some very exciting moments; but most importantly it is a document of the performing style of the time -noticeably different from that of our own day - and based on the very theatre of the opera's premiere 35 years earlier.

Andrea Chenier was first performed on 28th March 1896 at La Scala, Milan.

Luigi Marini was born in Ascoli Piceno, Italy, in 1884. Following his debut in 1905 he sang at many important opera houses, notably the Teatro Donizetti, Bergamo (1909 in Gioconda), the Costanzi, Rome (1912 in La Wally and Boheme) and La Scala, Milan (1915 and 1924, again in Gioconda). He appeared regularly in Turin and Genoa, at Covent Garden in 1924 (Boheme and Traviata) and visited Zurich, Lisbon, Barcelona and South America with success. Marini made cylinders for Edison in 1912 and recorded La Boheme complete for Columbia seventeen years later. He died in his home town in 1942.

Lina Bruna-Rasa, a native of Padua, was born in 1907. Engaged by Toscanini for Helen in Mefistofele at La Scala in 1926, she subsequently sang in two world premieres there - Wolf-Ferrari's Sly (1927) and Mascagni's Nerone (1935), as well as many verismo repertory roles. She also appeared in Milan in William Tell and the Italian premiere of Tsar Saltan and as guest artist elsewhere in Italy and South America, in Monte Carlo, Frankfurt, Zurich and The Hague. Bruna-Rasa sadly suffered from debilitating psychiatric illness and retired at an early age. She died in Milan in 1984.

 

Carlo Galeffi was born in 1882 near Venice. His first major successes in Naples in 1912 (Aida and Rigoletto) were followed by a visit to the USA; Boston and a single performance of La Troviata at the Met. He began his long and distinguished career at La Scala in 1913 (Don Carlos) and the following year made the first of many appearances at the Colon in Buenos Aires. As the possessor of a warm, elegant yet stirringly dramatic voice, (particularly fine in Verdi) Galeffi continued to sing to great acclaim until 1952. He died in Rome in 1961.

The career of Lorenzo Molajoli is a mystery in the history of opera. Nothing seems to be known of his work except that he conducted many recordings in the 1920s and 1930s, mostly for Columbia in Milan. From the evidence of those discs he was clearly a very competent musician, experienced at handling large orchestral and vocal forces - and yet where, apart from the recording studio, did he conduct? Was Lorenzo Molajoli his real name? If so, why can more not be discovered about him? If not, who was he, and why did he need to conceal it?

 

Paul Campion

 

Synopsis

 

CDI

Act I

[1] The scene is in the conservatory of the winter garden at the chateau of the Counts de Coigny.

Lackeys, servants and valets are scurrying round under the orders of an arrogant major-domo, carrying furniture and dishes, preparing for the entertainment. Gerard, in livery, comes in with other servants, carrying a heavy blue sofa.

The major-domo tells them where to put it and goes with the servants to an inner room, while Gerard remains alone, kneeling by the sofa, which he adjusts, mocking the pretensions of the nobility, ending with a cynical laugh, From the garden comes an old gardener, Gerard's father, labouring under a heavy piece of furniture. Gerard runs to help him and he totters away into the garden again, leaving his son to regret his father's servitude and his own. He expresses his hatred of the place and his bitter contempt for this way of life, soon to end. [2] The Countess enters, with her daughter Maddalena and her attendant. Maddalena comments on the approaching evening and the mysterious shadows it casts, while Gerard privately admires her beauty. The Countess inspects the preparations that have been made and orders the servants to light the candles. Gerard assures her that the singers and musicians are already dressing and tuning up. The guests will soon be there, including a famous writer and a poet. She turns to her daughter and tells her to dress, leaving her with her maid, Bersi. [3] Maddalena regrets the restrictions that formal dress imposes. The Countess returns and the sound of approaching guests is heard, as Maddalena and Bersi run out. She greets her guests, as they enter, complimenting them. Finally the elderly novelist Fleville is shown in, followed by a young man, the poet Andrea Chenier and an Italian musician, whom he presents to the company with exaggerated affectation. He is interrupted by the arrival of the Abbe, coming from Paris, and everyone is eager to hear his political news, which is alarming enough. [4] Fleville turns their attention away from this to the coming pastoral and the chorus of shepherdesses enters. After their performance the Countess turns to Chenier and asks for a poem, but he refuses. [5] Maddalena, however, makes the same request and he agrees. [6] His famous 'Improvisation' contrasts the beauty of nature with the injustice of man, the greed of the clergy and the inequality of society, to the scandal of the company, begging Maddalena to hear his message. [7] Maddalena seeks his pardon and the Countess changes the subject by inviting her guests to join in a gavotte. At this moment there is heard the sound of voices as men draw near, complaining of their hunger and misery. They are ushered in by Gerard, who announces the arrival of His Highness Wretchedness. He and the peasants he has allowed in are sent away by the Countess, Gerard glad to be rid of his livery and the bread that chokes him. The Countess cannot understand, for she has always been ready with charity. She sinks down on the sofa, but is soon revived, to bid the guests return to the dance that had been interrupted.

 

Act II

[8] The second act is set in Paris. To the right is an altar dedicated to Marat and to the left the cafe Hottot, where Chenier sits at a table. The sansculotte Mathieu turns to the revolutionary Orazio Coclite as he takes down the bust of Marat and dusts it. The cries of ragged urchins in Phrygian caps selling newspapers are heard. Mathieu buys a paper and sits down to read it, only to find it out of date. At a nearby table in the cafe sit Bersi and the informer known as Incredibile (l'Incroyable). She asks him if it is true that Robespierre has spies [9] and tells him she has nothing to fear, as a true daughter of the Revolution, enjoying her new life, the excitement, the drinking and even the bloodshed, and the tumbril, which is seen passing. As Bersi leaves, Incredibile voices his suspicions of her and the fair-haired woman she is with, as well as Chenier, whom he has under observation. [10] He moves back as Roucher appears, greeted by his friend Chenier, to whom he brings a passport, urging him to escape the danger that threatens him. Chenier, however, has faith in his destiny and has, in any case, had an ideal of love in his mind. He confides to Roucher the fact that he has received letters from a mysterious woman, with whom he is in love and whom must see. [11] He shows a letter to Roucher, who tries to dissuade him from his passion and induce him to escape while he can. Robespierre and other revolutionaries are seen, followed by the crowd. [12] Among them is Gerard, hailed by the mob and then beckoned aside by Incredibile, who asks for further details of the woman that he has been told to seek out. Gerard gives a rhapsodic description and the spy promises that he shall see her that evening, while Roucher, Chenier and the crowd comment on the revolutionary leaders, as they pass. [13] Bersi approaches Roucher, telling him that someone wishes to see Chenier. She is observed all the time by Incredibile, as she tells Chenier, who was about to leave, that the signatory of the letters, Speranza, is in danger and will meet him by the altar to Marat. Roucher suspects a trap, but Chenier tells him he will be on his guard. Night is drawing in, patrols pass and Mathieu returns to light a lamp by the bust of Marat. Incredibile continues his watch. [14] Fearfully Maddalena draws near, seeking the place of meeting, and the cloaked figure of Chenier is seen approaching. They meet and he recognizes her, as she reminds him of their last meeting. Maddalena thinks she has seen a shadow, but Incredibile has now found out all he needs and is on his way to Gerard. Maddalena is in fear for her life, alone, except for Bersi, and seeking Chenier's protection, which he gladly gives, ready to die with her, if need be. [15] They are interrupted by the arrival of Gerard, accompanied by Incredibile. Chenier attacks Gerard and shouts to Roucher, who has returned, to save Maddalena. They make their escape, followed, on Gerard's orders, by Incredibile. Chenier and Gerard fight and the latter falls, wounded, telling his antagonist to escape and save Maddalena, since he has already been proscribed. Incredibile returns with the guard, Mathieu and others, horrified at the attack on Gerard and vowing death to their enemies.

 

CD 2

Act III

[1] The Committee of Public Safety is in session. Before the President of the Tribunal is a table and on it a large urn of painted wood. Near this are Orazio Coclite and Mathieu. Behind the table is a tricolour flag and the inscription 'Citizens! The Country is in danger'. Mathieu chants in a monotone the names of enemies of the state, commenting in asides as he does so, seeking contributions from the public, which a few, under threat, reluctantly make, putting money in the urn, as Mathieu echoes the supposed words of Toussaint L'Ouverture, 'Freedom and Potatoes'. Gerard enters, welcomed by the people, and Mathieu gives way to him. [2] The former explains more vividly and accurately the dangers in which the country finds itself, seeking money and soldiers for the cause. The public responds to his appeal. [3] Among those coming forward is an old woman, Madelon, whose son died in the taking of the Bastille, and she offers her only surviving grandson. Officials carry away the urn and those present turn to celebration in singing patriotic revolutionary songs, drinking and dancing. [4] As this is going on, Incredibile appears and approaches Gerard, telling him that the bird is in the net. As they talk, a news vendor is heard proclaiming the arrest of Chenier and Incredibile points out that Maddalena will soon try to help her lover [5] Gerard is hesitant. He should write out the summons that will bring Chenier before the tribunal, now the poet has been proscribed by Fouquier-Tinville. He decides what he should write, accusing him as an enemy of the country, now swayed by his desire for Maddalena rather than by any remaining revolutionary enthusiasm, having simply changed one master for another. Incredibile returns and Gerard tells him that he will remain where he is, as the clerk of the court to the Revolutionary Tribunal appears. Gerard hands him the paper of accusation that he has signed and the official withdraws. [6] Maddalena is ushered in by Mathieu. She is seeking

Gerard, who, when he sees her, tells her of his love for her for so long. Maddalena is surprised then shocked at his declaration, and threatens to leave and court death by announcing her identity in the street. [7] She gives a moving account of the death of her mother in their burning chateau, the loyalty of her maid Bersi and the danger and loneliness she had undergone, until she met Chenier. She offers herself to Gerard in return for her lover's safety. The clerk of the court returns and hands papers to Gerard, and Maddalena sees written there the name of Chenier. She begs him to save Chenier and in spite of the clamour of people waiting for condemnation he writes a quick note to the President of the court. [8] The public is now admitted to the room and the people jostle for places near the front. Eventually the accused are brought in by their guards, with Chenier the last to appear. They are charged one by one by the prosecutor, Fouquier-Tinville, who accuses Chenier of having written against the Revolution and served as a soldier with the traitor Dumouriez. [9] Chenier denies the charge and glories in his service as a soldier and as a writer, fighting with his pen against hypocrisy [10] Fouquier-Tinville calls for witnesses and Gerard comes forward, admitting that the accusation that he had drafted was false. The prosecutor denies this and accuses Gerard of offence against his country and against justice. Gerard speaks out against the injustice he sees and runs to Chenier, embracing him. Chenier sees Maddalena in the crowd and can now die happy, as the death sentence is pronounced and the curtain falls.

 

Act IV

[11] The former Convent of St Vincent de Paul is now the prison of St Lazare. Chenier is in the prison yard, sitting by a lamp-post and writing. Roucher is near him. It is night. Schmidt comes into the yard, telling Roucher that it is late, but, at a sign and money from him, is told to wait, [12] Chenier is completing a poem, which he now reads out, comparing the culmination of his life to a day in May, a contemplation of his approaching death. He finishes and Roucher embraces him, before the two friends shake hands and part. The voice of Mathieu is heard outside the prison, while Gerard knocks at the prison door and is admitted by Schmidt. He is accompanied by Maddalena. [13] Maddalena turns to Gerard, reminding him of his promise, and insists that she will take the place of another, bribing the gaoler Schmidt with her jewels. Gerard tries to dissuade her and runs to the second courtyard, trying to save the couple, as he hears Schmidt returning with Chenier. [14] Chenier is deeply consoled by Maddalena's presence and is overwhelmed by what she has done. [15] They celebrate their coming death, the final triumph of love, as the gaoler calls them to their doom.

 

Keith Anderson

 


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