This Andrea Chénier may well be the most important musical event of the season, at least in Barcelona. After a several-year wait, a few recitals to calm down the urge to listen to him, and a notorious history of cancellations that always threaten his appearances, Jonas Kaufmann comes to the Liceu for a staged opera. And he does it just like the top stars, in very small doses, with only three performances not included on the season tickets and sold for astronomical prices, to the loyal audience’s anger. This is the fare you have to pay for the opera stars, for listening to the most famous tenor of the decade, and from whom, on the opening night, the co-star Sondra Radvanovsky stole the limelight.

Jonas Kaufmann and Sondra Radvanovsky © A. Bofill | Gran Teatre del Liceu
Jonas Kaufmann and Sondra Radvanovsky
© A. Bofill | Gran Teatre del Liceu

To do justice to this Andrea Chénier, we have to talk first about Sondra Radvanovsky, the absolute triumphant of the night and who was responsible for one of the most complete and exciting performances that I have had the fortune to witness. Her Maddalena is a wonder of performing in which the borders between the drama and the music disappear to make space for a mixture of vocal excellence and psychologic credibility that only the bigger stars get. “La mamma morta” was the climax of the night, one of those pieces so famous that it seems there is little more to say, but that Radvanovsky revitalises it through an impeccable technique and her dramatic honesty. The melancholic and bereaved introspection on the first part, supported on her moving low sounds and messa di voce, flowed naturally towards the brave rebelliousness of the second part, when her powerful vocal means and a bold projection, wide and full of brightness, filled the theatre not with the sound of the voice - that would have been easy- but with a naked feeling.

Sondra Radvanovsky © A. Bofill | Gran Teatre del Liceu
Sondra Radvanovsky
© A. Bofill | Gran Teatre del Liceu

Kaufmann gave an attractive, but also slightly irregular Andrea Chénier. It is expected, from a celebrity like him, to be given memorable renditions and this may be the problem; when listening to him, one thinks that his reputation overshadows him. The most interesting and moving were those medium voices, deep and performed with resonance that represent his most distinctive feature. The numerous parts of verism - those of authentic spinto - featured either very convincingly or were absent, depending on the moment and showed one of Kaufmann’s contradictions: he gets that dark colour, artificial but seductive at the same time, by channeling the voice, something that, increasingly, affects the projection. Only as the night moved forward, and with the evidence that his cast colleagues were piling up more minutes of “bravi” than him, he seemed to press the accelerator to a glorious final syllable “... insieme” (all together), when at the doors of the scaffold he got to his colleague’s level. Here it is another singer who has learned that, at least in this theatre, the audience has to be won every night.

Carlos Álvarez portrayed well in the split morals of Gérard - he is not an evil person with no weaknesses like his dramatic cousin, Scarpia - and with severity and a very well crafted line of singing, he offered a magnificent and solid spectacle on his aria “Nemico della patria”, which the audience praised with a few minutes of ovations and a loud argument over whether he should offer an encore or not, which didn’t happen in the end. Among the supporting roles it is customary to bring out Anna Tomowa-Sintow as the elderly revolutionary. It is a privilege to listen to a part of the history of singing in a rendition based on wisdom, which the natural effect of age on her voice only strengthened.

Carlos Álvarez and Anna Tomowa-Sintow © A. Bofill | Gran Teatre del Liceu
Carlos Álvarez and Anna Tomowa-Sintow
© A. Bofill | Gran Teatre del Liceu

McVicar’s staging, premiered in Covent Garden, takes the classic and literal side to the maximum, with epic intention and an abuse of papier-mâché. It is a colourful and slightly naive vision which avoids its own sinister elements and, at times, resembles a theme park of the French Revolution. At the same time, it fulfills its function as a set, that far from interpretational controversies, only frames a spectacular cast which are absolutely the main reason why this Andrea Chénier was a great event.