After seeing La Traviata in Milan, I went to Munich, to see the premiere of Andrea Chénier. The Bayerische Staatsoper put up a new production of the masterpiece by Umberto Giordano, and I loved it! It is so rare that I like a production this much, I must tell you about it.
The director is Philipp Stölzl, who has worked in the movies, and it’s pretty obvious. The staging is made up of different “doll’s houses”, and other huge sets that move, “zoom in”, changing the scene in plain sight. In the first act the doll’s house is clearly divided in two: the aristocrats are in the upper part, and the servants in the cellar. It is simple, but very effective. When the aristocrats watch the bucolic play, the doll’s house moves (with everybody on it) to reveal a “home theatre” where the play takes place.
Stölzl creates salons, writing-studios or prison cells in which everything happens at the same time. This creates intimacy, for example, when Gérard brutally attacks Maddalena, in other rooms there are people sitting around in their office and going about their everyday life, while a storm of emotions rages in the chamber. This variety of scenes sometimes distracts from the singers, and this is the only complaint I have about the production. It is hard to convey the magnificence, the opulence of the staging, please take a look at the trailer, you’ll get an idea:
A part from the amazing staging, the production was pretty traditional: the story was set in France, during the Revolution, with rich, beautiful costumes and sensible stage direction. Hence, it was booed, of course. To be honest, probably most of the booing was because of the wax head of Jonas Kaufmann exposed to the crowd after his decapitation (that was really silly), but I couldn’t help thinking that the Munich audience just can’t stand a beautiful traditional production. I guess some people found it kitsch, and it was, for sure. But, on the other hand, Giordano’s music is a bit kitsch itself, so I don’t think a sophisticated production would be appropriate.
Jonas Kaufmann came back to the stage in Munich after his mishap on his vocal cord, and he was in great shape! He’s not 100% yet, he seems cautious, and some piano attacks were a bit hoarse, there was like a veil on his voice. But he is a fantastic Chénier, passionate and engaging. The aria in the final act was probably his best moment, he really let go and gave a great performance.
Maddalena was Anja Harteros, who was magnificent. Her voice changes, following the evolution of the character: a silly, frivolous girl in the first act, a terrified victim in the second, a passionate, convinced heroin in the third. The quality of her timbre is glorious, and, although I like her better in earlier repertoire (Verdi!!), in the opera verista she is absolutely convincing. She does always have controlled, calm, sometimes cold manners, but these are petty grivances: she is amazing, go hear her live if you can.
The best thing that both protagonists did were the duets. They have great chemistry, on stage together, and not only in the acting, but, more importantly, from a musical point of view. They are always balanced, they always work together, without trying to outdo one another, always at the service of the music. They are a great team. This comeradery makes their on-stage romance extremely believable and engaging. The fact that they are both gorgeous also helps.
Luca Salsi, as Gerard, was absolutely amazing!! He got the biggest show-stopping applause of the evening, after Nemico della patria!, which he delivered with skill and passion. He is truly one of the greatest singers of his generation. He has everything: Italian sound, a natural emission, great technique, huge voice and extremely sophisticated musicality. His phrasing is delightful, he really works on every single note. Every time I hear him I like him better.
All the minor roles were on point; honorable mention for J’nai Bridges as Bersi, who has a very strong, warm mezzo, worthy of better roles. Gigantic applause for Elena Zilio as the Old Madelon. This character always wins over the hearts of the audience.
The premiere was an important social event, clearly. All of Munich’s upper class was at the opera, in their best clothes. I just wish I had the courage to take pictures because some of the ladies’ outfits were absolutely hilarious.