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17 August, 2019

Kaufmann, Westbroek, Tezier excel in Andrea Chenier at Sydney Opera House.

Jonas Kaufmann as Andrea Chenier at the Sydney Opera House – Thurs 8th August 7pm 

I am still reeling in the after-glow of this magnificent outing of Giordano’s masterpiece, Andrea Chenier. 

55 years ago a determined impresario obtained the services of three of the world’s greatest singers to perform Andrea Chenier in Tokyo.  Happily Renata Tebaldi, Mario Del Monaco and Aldo Protti were filmed for Japanese television and the B&W DVD is one of my prized opera recordings.  Their performances are all staggering and the applause equally enthusiastic in this fully staged version.  Now, decades later in Sydney and Melbourne we have three great singers at their peaks in this same opera, in concert. 

We were fortunate to hear German tenor Jonas Kaufmann, Dutch soprano Eva-Maria Westbroek and French baritone Ludovic Tezier.  Any one of these opera stars should have ensured a full house … but to hear all three with numerous superb Australian singers, chorus and orchestra in Utzon’s ‘wunder-barn’ yielded one of the best nights at the opera since Sutherland and Pavarotti sang here together in 1983. No costumes, no wigs, no sets.  Just glorious vocalism as its best.  The Concert Hall performances were options in the year’s season subscription.  In fact they were a major draw-card. 

Giordano’s brilliance shines through time and again in this wonderful opera … illuminating Luigi Illica’s moving and tragic libretto.  Chenier is a revolutionary poet and he addresses country, love, honour, chivalry, charity, justice and punishment to a rare dramatic perfection.  Monsieur Tezier sings a stunning ‘Son sessant’anni’ to set the scene for revolution; then his equally stentorian ‘Nemico della patria’ to ensure the opera’s unhappy ending.  The tenor has four arias in the two long acts, starting with ‘Un dì all'azzurro spazio’ Mr Kauffman devotes enormous vocal and dramatic energy to each piece.  Ms Westbroek, who sang Sieglinde at the Met recently, sang her famous aria ‘La Mamma morta’ which brought the house down before their final duet ‘Vicino a te’. 

Sian Sharp (Pendry), Anna Dowsley, Ben Rasheed, Richard Anderson, Luke Gabbedy, Domenica Matthews, Jonathan Alley, Christopher Hillier, Alexander Hargraves and Graeme Macfarlane all sang significant roles with style and flair. 

One of the unique performances belonged to Gerard, the manor valet who first evokes the anti-patrician sentiments, uniforms, generations of servants and service without recognition, remuneration or choice.  And looking francishly elegant, Monsieur Tezier wore a bespoke arch-cut tuxedo in deepest green and black which was a ‘uniform’ of sorts emphasising his designated station in life.  And he sang the demonstrative notes of this magnificent role, almost equalling the amazing feat of Aldo Protti in the old TV recording from Tokyo (still available on-line).  While the lovers inevitably take the lime-light at the glorious ending (Madame Guillotine notwithstanding) it is the baritone who carries much of the dramatic weight of this unique work. 

Israeli Sabra Pinchas Steinberg conducted the Opera Australia Orchestra and Chorus.  He was clearly au fait with the piece but for some reason took the start of Act II at a ridiculously fast pace, seemingly to prove that the instruments could keep up, which they seem to have, but few audience ears could have done so in my view.  The chorus likewise did as required to great effect, although this is not a great choral opera. 

There were shades of modern Hong Kong in the story line, such is the revolutionary spirit there just now. 

There are few operas in my experience with as many spine tingling moments as Andrea Chenier and it will a long time before the privileged Sydney audience forgets this experience.  I spoke to two patrons who were determined to re-live the performance on the Sunday matinee following.  Good luck to them! Another decided against it, ‘lest it dent the indelible impression of the prima’. 

Notes by Andrew Byrne .. Sydney addiction physician.

If you want YouTube treat try the improviso

Equally the last 10 minutes of the opera are splendid … as our heroes the lovers face the guillotine. 
Or in B&W TV from Tokyo in 1961: