LABELS: Hardy Classic Video
ALBUM TITLE: Giordano
WORKS: Andrea Chénier
PERFORMER: Franco Corelli, Piero Cappuccilli, Celestina Casapietra; RAI Chorus & Orchestra/Bruno Bartoletti; dir. Václav Kaslík (TV film, 1973)
CATALOGUE NO: HCD 4008
What a well-fed mob it is that bursts into the Countess of Coigny’s salon after Andrea Chénier has sung his anthem to the downtrodden poor. Clearly she has let them eat cake. Chénier, too, in this film made for Italian television in 1973 looks anything but a man of the people in a coat studded with brilliants that catch the light like a jeweller’s window. But this is verismo not verisimilitude, which may explain the curious geography in this studio version of Revolutionary Paris in which all gutters seem to lead to the guillotine.
And verismo is what you expect from a trio of top-notch principals. As Maddalena, Celestina Casapietra makes a dainty dish of ‘La mamma morta’, probably the best-known number in Giordano’s opera, with lovely soft singing and an acting style to match as she scales down the traditional full-blooded theatrical performance that the part demands. Indeed it fits the small screen so naturally that you almost forget that she is miming the part to playback like everybody else. Franco Corelli is, well, Franco Corelli, big and beefy, even if that heroic top sounds less burnished than it did earlier in his career. Naturally, Bruno Bartoletti conducting the RAI Orchestra makes the final duet for Chénier and Maddalena the sure-fire showstopper that it ought to be.
However, it’s a young Piero Cappuccilli as Gérard who wins the laurels with a remarkable interpretation that transforms the character from the usual baritone villain of the piece into a man genuinely divided between his love for Maddalena and his duty to the Revolution. When she arrives to beg for Chénier’s life, Gérard’s decision to defend his rival before the Revolutionary Tribunal calls the hairs on the back of your neck to attention. You can even forgive the chorus ‘guillotining’ fennel, leeks and other vegetables in court before the case begins! Christopher Cook