With all the attention being paid to the French Revolution these days, thanks to the film of "LES MISERABLES," it probably seemed like a good idea for Opera Orchestra of New York to mount ANDREA CHENIER, Giordano's opera about a poet during the downfall of the monarchy in 18th century France. Unfortunately, it didn't take long for the focus to turn from the opera to the performance of the tenor of the day, Roberto Alagna.
And not in a good way.
The questions came loud and fast shortly after the performance began. Among them: Did he have a case of nerves? Was he out partying the night before? Was there someone in the audience diverting his attention? Was he distracted by the unsurprising divorce news that filtered out last week? Did he have a cold, since he kept patting his nose with a hankie? (There was no announcement of indisposition.) But, most importantly, was he simply unprepared?
We mere mortals will probably never know. And the fact is that it really doesn't matter. It was to the credit of the other singers, the orchestra, chorus and Maestro Alberto Veronesi that when Alagna seemed to lose his place in the challenging "Improvviso," his earliest music, and asked everyone to restart (including the supertitles), the performance proceeded as if nothing had happened. And, yes, he finished his aria quite nicely, with the music fitting his voice better than in a recent Aida.
I would leave it at that, or not waste another line about him, but this kind of travesty casts a kind of pall over a performance: Will he do it again? (Yes, he missed a later entrance and had another fluff.) Will he conk out totally? And the fact is that ANDREA CHENIER with an underpar Andrea Chenier is not a very good place to be--no matter how good the other performers. Without thrills or chills from the tenor, it is hard to see the appeal of this opera.
Nonetheless, the cast had numerous singers who I'd want to hear again under better circumstances. The Romanian baritone George Petean, as a character who goes from servant to villain to would-be savior of Chenier, had a beautiful sound; his monologue aria, "Nemico della Patria" was a highlight of the afternoon, though he was sometimes overpowered by the orchestra. Kristin Lewis has a big voice that I'd like to hear in a more rewarding role than Maddalena; her rendition of "La mamma morta" was powerful and exciting. In smaller roles, mezzo Jennifer Feinstein made a good impression as Maddalena's mother, the countess de Coigny, and baritone David Pershall was appealing as Chenier's friend, Roucher.
As she proved on Broadway last year as the opera singer in Sondheim's FOLLIES, Rosalind Elias still knows how to steal the spotlight. In the cameo role of Madelon, she did more acting onstage in five minutes than most of the cast did all evening. She was a force of nature--unfortunately she wasn't the titular star of the show.
Richard Sasanow is a long-time writer on art, music, food, travel and international business for publications including The New York Times, The Guardian (UK), Town & Country and Travel & Leisure, among many others. He also interviewed some of the great singers of the 20th century for the programs at the San Francisco Opera and San Diego Opera and worked on US tours of the Orchestre National de France and Vienna State Opera, conducted by Lorin Maazel, Zubin Mehta and Leonard Bernstein. |