Been away for three weeks, hence no recent posts. But will be at home for a while and thus regular posts will resume.
Umberto Giordano’s (1867- 1948) Andrea Chenier is firmly ensconced in the standard operatic repertory. It is very loosely based on the life of the poet Andre Chenier (1762-94) who lost his head during the Reign of Terror. Though far from a masterpiece it is full of guilty pleasures. The title role is a great part for a spinto tenor. The leading soprano and baritone characters are also generous roles for singers of the vocal type most satisfactory for Verdi .
The most compelling of the tenor’s numbers is the first act recitative and aria ‘Colpito qui m’avete…Un dì all’azzurro spazio’ (commonly called the ‘Improvviso’). As an aside does anyone know another Italian word that contains a double v? There are a few in English like ‘savvy’.) The aria is a lament for the insensitivity of the nobility, in general, and the heroine, in particular, to the plight of France’s pre-revolutionary poor.
The ‘Improvvisio’ requires a dramatic or healthy spinto to make it’s full effect. Aureliano Pertile (1885-1952) had great success as Chenier. Though Pertile’s voice was not the most sensuous he could phrase with great artistry and he had equally great vocal power. This 1925 recording shows why he was Toscanini’s favorite tenor in the twenties. Pertile Improvviso
Beniamino Gigli (1890-1957) was a lyric tenor, but so secure was his technique that he could manage spinto parts without strain, still a little more firepower would have helped. Gigli Improvviso
George Thill (1897-1984) was the greatest French tenor of the 1930s. His American career was attenuated. He only appeared 8 times with the Met. Chenier is not a role usually associated with him, but his Improvviso is is powerful and passionate. Thill Improvviso 1929
No one associated Mario Del Monaco (1915-82) with vocal artistry, but when it came to heft he was matchless. He was Chenier in the Met’s revival of the opera in 1954. He scored a great success as the headless poet. Del Monaco Improvviso. If you pour out the sound like Del Monaco could you can finesse artistry.
Jan Peerce (1904-84) was another favorite tenor of Toscanini. He did not have a big enough voice for Chenier and thus never sang it on stage or on commercial records. This abridged version was taken from a radio broadcast around 1954. Peerce Improvviso. Like everything Peerce did it is very well sung if you’re not bothered by his constricted sound.
Peerce’s brother-in-law and bitter rival Richard Tucker (1913-75) had all the voice and then some needed for this part. This excerpt is from a 1957 Met performance. Improvviso Tucker. Tucker’s steely tenor was ideal for this part.
Mario Lanza’s (1921-59) operatic career or rather the lack of it is one of opera’s great sorrows. Lanza was born the same year as Giuseppe Di Stefano and Franco Corelli and should have had as big a career as either of them. But we do have the recordings. He’d have been a great Chenier. Lanza Improvviso
Chenier was a staple of Franco Corelli (1921-2003). His good looks (based on the portraits of Chenier, Corelli was much better looking) and virile voice made him one of the great interpreters of the role. This performance was recorded at a Tokyo recital in 1971. Corelli Improvviso
Placido Domingo (b 1940) was easily the best Chenier of the 70s and early 80s. I heard him sing the role in Chicago, none of his contemporaries was close. Domingo Improvviso 1979
Giuseppe Giacomini (b 1941) has had an unusual career. Between 1976 and 1988 he sang 85 performances at the Met. I heard him there several times and he was unimpressive. Quite a few years after he left the Met I heard him in as Calaf in Turandot in Sicily; he was spectacularly good. The recordings he made after leaving the Met are likewise good. I don’t know what caused his late blooming surge, but unlike most tenors he seems to have improved with age. Giacomini Improvviso. His dark baritonal sound is that of a dramatic tenor.
Finally Ben Heppner (b 1956). The Canadian tenor’s career can be divided into two halves. Before Otello and after Heppner’s portrayal of the Moor. I heard Heppner’s first Otello in Chicago in 2001. He had the requisite sound and power, but he kept cracking at unpredictable intervals. He was never right after that. He even withdrew from singing for a while in an attempt to regain the vocal splendor that had been his prior to Otello. He’s in fine form in this recording, except for a very small slip midway through the aria. Heppner Improvviso
Who would be the best Chenier today? After hearing him in Die Walküre and La Fanciulla Del West I’d say that Jonas Kaufmann (b 1969) seems the best candidate though he has yet to sing the part, and may never get around to it. Incidentally, Kaufmann made his American debut as Cassio in the same Chicago staging in which Heppner first performed Otello. I could have added more versions of this aria, but 11 seems enough.
The text of the aria with an English translation is here.