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OPERA

Review: Down to earth with a stylish look

THE FRENCH Revolution of 1789, the Italian verismo opera genre developed by composers like Mascagni and Puccini more than a century ago, and a modern setting. Could such diverse elements work if combined together in one work?
The new production of the opera Andrea Chénier by the Italian composer Umberto Giordano, which premiered in the Slovak National Theatre last December, proves that it is possible. One country's historical events mixed with the musical style of another and realised in a modern setting on the Slovak stage results in a spectacular and colourful show full of dramatic tension and beautiful melodies.

Andrea Chénier
Composed by: Umberto Giordano
Conducted by: Rastislav Štúr, Martin Mázik, Pavol Selecký.
Where: Slovenské národné divadlo (Slovak National Theatre), Hviezdoslavovo námestie, Bratislava
Next performances: March 27, April 34, May 19, and June 17 at 19:00.
Performed in four acts, in Italian with Slovak subtitles.
Rating: 8 out of 10

THE FRENCH Revolution of 1789, the Italian verismo opera genre developed by composers like Mascagni and Puccini more than a century ago, and a modern setting. Could such diverse elements work if combined together in one work?

The new production of the opera Andrea Chénier by the Italian composer Umberto Giordano, which premiered in the Slovak National Theatre last December, proves that it is possible. One country's historical events mixed with the musical style of another and realised in a modern setting on the Slovak stage results in a spectacular and colourful show full of dramatic tension and beautiful melodies.

Giordano's decision to portray the life of a French poet of the 18th century was not accidental. Italian verists insisted on using real, down-to-earth stories (the word verismo comes from Italian "vero" meaning real or true). The French Revolution represented a vast source of inspiration for the composer, offering a wide spectrum of realistic details: hatred between different social groups, heads chopped off, blood, and great expectations turned into fear and suspicion. And, of course, a love story between a poet and an aristocrat crowned by the tragic death of both, which is used as the main pillar of the opera.

The events in the opera are divided into two parts by the revolution: before and after. Andrea Chénier, a young poet, first stands for the revolution but later becomes appalled by the enormity of the terror and persecution. He is condemned and executed. Maddalena di Coigny, a young aristocrat, first meets Chénier in her mother's lavish palace and falls in love with him. After her mother's murder she hides. Chénier is her only love and protector. She follows him to the guillotine. Carlo Gérard, once a servant in Coigny's house, becomes a national hero during the revolution. He helps the couple in the most critical moments, even though he is secretly in love with Maddalena himself.

The Swiss stage director Guy Montavon and the German set designer Hank Irwin Kittel made a clear division between the two worlds of the aristocrats and the revolutionaries.

The lavishly decorated and brightly illuminated salon symbolises the first social group, while a gloomy, sinister metallic construction - a clear allusion to a prison grill - represents the second. This huge piece of metal is used throughout the performance to transform the stage into a courtroom, a prison cell, or the streets of the city.

The stage director found an original way to show the fragility of the aristocratic world. At the end of the first act, during an elegant ball, the walls of the salon, fixed on that metallic construction, suddenly collapse and reveal a crowd of hungry peasants behind.

The costume designer's work follows a similar division of styles: bright and elegant dresses for the aristocrats and simple, dark clothing for the citizens. The designer Ľudmila Várossová is undoubtedly a master of her profession: The costumes are original and stylish, while maintaining the spirit of the historical period.

Only in the music are the contrasts between the two different worlds less noticeable. The genius of the composer is so abundant that he distributed the beautiful melodies equally among the aristocrats and the revolutionaries.

The roles of the main characters - Maddalena di Coigny, Andrea Chénier, and Carlo Gérard - are especially expressive and demanding. Long melodic lines, many high notes, and extensive arias are the main challenges for singers. Ľubica Rybárska, Peter Dvorský, and Sergej Tolstov, who portrayed the characters in the January 4 performance respectively, pulled off all those singing feats.

Rybárska's soprano and Dvorský's tenor merged nicely in love duets, however, the two were sometimes a little out of tune. Tolstov's musical and artistic interpretation of the ambiguous servant Gérard was both precise and expressive.

However, the real pearls of this opera were the crowd scenes, specially the one in the revolutionary court in the third act. They are masterfully staged and artistically performed. Vive la revolution!

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