Foto: Wilfried Hösl
In this new production of the Munich Staatsoper, stage director Philipp Stölzl situated the action in its historical context, but his lookout on the work and its protagonists was that of today. The set juxtaposed „Upstairs Downstairs“ situations, and when we saw, in the first tableau, the servants live out their miserable downstairs lives, those downstairs quarters, cramped and low, prefigured the dungeons of the Revolution. Champagne-colored gowns and tapestries, upstairs everything was light and bright and warm, whereas downstairs everything was dark and dreary; the Comtesse de Coigny, affected and majestic as they come, sung and played with spirit and conviction by Doris Soffel - everything spoke of noble idleness and exploitation. Andrea Chénier, the poet, and the young countess Maddalena didn’t quite fit in. Costume-wise and in thought and word: He wore a somewhat worn-out suit, she a simple white dress; he expressed behind his poetry thoughts that showed a political conscience, she had a vague longing for freedom, at least freedom from straight-laced gowns and finery. It was this vague similarity of ideas that sparked the subsequent improbable love story. Their story was only one part of the historical panorama that this work presented. And so in the second tableau we found ourselves in Paris, in the middle of the Robbespierre’s Terror. The stage showed simultaneously the streets of Paris, a brothel, one of the downstairs rooms was a lazaret and the other one Andrea Chénier’s abode. The erstwhile servant Carlo Gérard turned out to be the real protagonist of the story: having become Robbespierre’ right hand, he had his spies look out for Maddalena with whom he had always been secretly in love, and Chénier whom he suspected of revolutionary heresy. Having got hurt by Chénier in a duel, he protected him, however, saving his life for the time being. When Maddalena later on offered him her virtue in exchange for Chénier’s freedom, he gave up her designs on her. Chénier was sentenced to death all the same and Maddalena decided to die with him. A number of secondary characters gravitated around these three, the most impressive of them was „the old Madelon“, an old woman who had lost almost all of her family and yet sacrificed her last grandson, a youth of 15, to the Revolution army. Elena Zilio interpreted her touching aria with so much conviction and almost-tears in her voice that every mother’s of son’s heart in the hall got a bit broken, and we had to think of all the mothers of all those sacrificed sons, today and in the past. Ambrogio Maestri took on the part of Gérard, replacing Luca Salsi, and he was magnificent. With his warm and smooth generous baritone voice and perfect intonation, he interpreted perfectly this anti-Scarpia in his development and his contradictions. The queen of the evening was the young countess Maddalena, Anja Harteros. She sang the arias and duets with so much innocent power, her warm and sweet voice followed the melodic lines with so much ease and grace that the thundering bravos were very largely deserved. Jonas Kaufmann in the role of Andrea Chénier was not in his best form tonight. He played his part to perfection, as always, but he seemed a bit tired, his play was a tiny bit routine, and if his pianissimi were fine and tense as always, he seemed a bit strained in the forte. The orchestra somewhat drowning out the singers, especially in the first part, didn’t really help either. Jonas Kaufmann is Jonas Kaufmann is Jonas Kaufmann, and the Munich public’s white-headed boy got the acclaim he deserved. Omer Meir Wellber, once the music gave him a chance, turned out to be an attentive conductor full of energy, highlighting many a detail of a score that otherwise is mostly functional. A lovely production, where everything worked together, a lovely Munich evening. Bravi tutti!