‘I wonder if there will be any pasties left at Waterloo’ one thinks, as Act 2 of Andrea Chenier at the Royal Opera House crawls along. With such a star-studded line-up in play, perhaps there could be a surprise in store…
Giordano’s tragic tale of the doomed titular poet, executed during the French Revolution, begins in a sumptuous golden salon, complete with grand chandeliers, gushing fountains, and a menagerie of peacocking aristocrats. But before long, the principals are fighting the orchestra, an overcrowded Parisian street, and each other, to be heard, and what can be deciphered — musically, visually and vocally — isn’t particularly interesting, or delivered with any urgency or colour.
And then suddenly, when the lights go down again, the fatalistic forecasting of the first half becomes desperately real. Dimitri Platanias agonises between desire and duty as Gerard, the jaded footman-turned revolutionary, delivering a splendid aria in Act 3. Soprano Sondra Radvanovsky follows this with a heart-shatteringly magnificent, utterly spellbinding ‘La mamma morta’ (They killed my mother). Then Elena Zilio delivers a deeply poignant highlight as a grieving grandmother, sacrificing her grandson to the revolutionary cause. It’s masterful, faultless singing which more than makes up for the soporific start.
Marking his 100th outing at Covent Garden, Roberto Alagna’s bold rather than beautiful voice is well suited to the role of the virtuous poet, burning with fervour and truth, if not romantic delicacy. His fellow principals steal the most ardent applause, but he is still on fine form.
Chenier has truly mesmerising moments and makes you wait for them, but Radvanovsky’s astonishing aria alone is more than worth it.
Andrea Chénier, Royal Opera House, Bow Street, WC2E 9DD. Tickets £27-£190, until 9 June 2019.