Starring: Mario del Monaco; Antonietta Stella; Giuseppe Taddei; Maria Amadini; Luisa Mandelli; Franco Calabrese; Athos Cesarini; Antonio Sacchetti Chorus and Orchestra of RAI/Angelo Questa Director: Mario Landi
Studio: Bel Canto DVD BCS-D0003
Video: Black & White; Full Screen
Audio: PCM Mono
Duration: 115 minutes
The performance of Giordano’s political romance Andrea Chenier 15 October 1955 features a sterling characterization from spinto tenor Mario del Monaco (1915-1982), often criticized for the mono-chromatic hurling of his voice in stentorian sound. Rather, as Andrea Chenier, he projects any number of affects, from the noble resolve as the poet and soldier, the patriot wrongly accused by the Reign of Terror, to the ardent lover whose appreciation of emotional nuance defines his devotion to Maddalena di Coigny, played with equal emotional urgency by Antonietta Stella. With a period French Revolution set design by Filippo Corradi Cervi, director Mario Landi has staged a verismo production, with the camera’s constant focus on prison and decorative bars as the motif capturing the principals‚ restrictions within the confines of their biases and passions. Even at the opening party scene, the iron trellises sequester the stolid aristocrats from the suffering peasants who will prove their undoing. Only at the drama’s conclusion, as the lovers proclaim their love-death, do the bars symbolically vanish, as their love emblematically releases them from earthly confusions.
In addition to the stellar realization of Chenier from del Monaco, the part of Charles Gerard, the servant-turned-revolutionary finds brilliant characterization in Giuseppe Taddei. Perhaps the most complex character in the drama, Gerard is a passionate, lustful, and later repentant figure whose personal lusts and ambitions have catapulted him into bearing false witness against Chenier. Spurred to denounce Chenier by the wily fop and spy “Incredibile” (Athos Cesarini), Taddei’s eyes become hard jewels as he savors his power in the course of writing the letter to condemn Chenier. His pudgy hands consistently become grasping talons to seize power and Maddalena. Yet he can urge Chenier to flee after their duel and melt with pity when Maddalena lists her personal trials in “La mamma morta.” Stella, whose acting I find rather wooden, remains a pretty girl, and her upper range has solidity and squillo, piercing-power. This is the very quality annotator Stefan Zucker claims del Monaco possesses in abundance, citing the singer’s use of low-larynx technique. Yet, in the cantilena, “Come un bel di di maggio,” Chenier’s final poem to the ephemera of life, it is his head and chest-tone that broke my heart. We sense the nobility of both Chenier’s character and del Monaco’s high art, and the effect is shattering, as it had been for me in Vesti la giubba from his MET Pagliacci with Mitropoulos (3 January 1959).
As any veteran of the theater will readily admit, the principals’ success depends on the pliability of the entire ensemble, and this production offers some exemplary work in the secondary parts: Ortensia Beggiato‚s moving “Mio figlio e morto,” as the blind Madelon offers up her last grandson to the Revolution; Bruno Cioni’s jailer Schmidt, who accepts a bribe while making it admirably clear to Maddalena what she is in fact purchasing; the ever faithful Roucher, played and sung impeccably by Franco Calabrese. Meanwhile, looking a bit like a barrel-chested Jon Hall or Clayton Moore, del Monaco shines as the sensitive, often vulnerable poet-patriot. The fact that the singers lip-sync their parts to a pre-recorded sound track is painfully obvious at times, but the acting, especially from Taddei, is thoroughly convincing. One always feels either Iago or Scarpia is ready to burst out of him. For collectors of opera-as-video, this Andrea Chenier is indispensable fare.
— Gary Lemco