If it’s not too indiscreet, will you tell me who you are wearing? My friend really wants to know.
—A tuxedoed man to your not-so-humble blogger on opening night
Umberto Giordano, Andrea Chénier (1896)
Based on: the life of French poet André Chénier
Notable Cultural Reference: Philadelphia
Setting: Paris, 1789–1794
Plot in 101 words or less: A winter’s ball, and the countess’s daughter is the envy of all, including servant Gérard and poet Andrea Chenier. But the Revolution’s coming and, after beggars crash the party, Gérard quits. Liberté! Flash forward to The Terror where the countess has gotten her comeuppance but daughter Maddalena is still able to pass her time writing anonymous love letters using former servant Bersi as go-between. Égalité! (Sort of.) As for fraternité, Gérard is now buddy-buddy with Robespierre and jealous of the new It Couple. A few shifting allegiances and a prison switcheroo later and it’s off with Andrealena’s heads. Vive la Révolution!
Andrea Chénier is a perfect opening night selection, with lovely arias to showcase the singers and excellent opportunities for creative and/or beautiful set design and costume work. San Francisco Opera’s production didn’t let me down on any of these scores. Nor did my fellow operagoers, whose outfits (mostly) rose to the occasion as well.
But first, the opera. With three San Francisco debuts as leads, it was anyone’s guess how the singing would fare, but overall this production was strong. Yonghoon Lee was probably the weakest of the three in the titular role—I thought his singing was a bit thin and his acting unconvincing, though he handled “Come un bel dì di maggio” towards the end just fine. Picking up the slack were Anna Pirozzi as Maddalena de Coigny and George Gagnidze as Carlo Gérard, both of whom earned tremendous applause after their arias (“La mamma morta” and “Nemico della patria” respectively). Unfortunately, beyond these few showstoppers, there’s not much melody to this work and I can’t say the opera itself will ever rank up there in my favorites.
I thought the sets by Robert Jones were quite impressive, but maybe that’s because I was so disappointed by most of the sets last fall season. In any case, they successfully took us from a palace ball to the streets, cafés, and tribunals of revolutionary Paris, and then finally to prison. The lighting by Adam Silverman was particularly effective in this final act, with the shadows of the prison bars cast across the stage. Finally, these transitions were aided and abetted by Jenny Tiramani’s terrific costumes, which were extremely varied and detailed throughout each act.
Speaking of costumes…
There are five more performances of Andrea Chénier at the War Memorial Opera House on September 14, 17, 22, 25, and 30. Better than a trip to the guillotine!