Sunday, April 29, 2007

Andrea Chénier

This opera first performed in Milan 1896 "is a fiery verisimo work very loosely based on the life and writings of a French poet who was guillotined during the French Revolution."

The tale set against this backdrop is a love story between Chénier and Maddalena. Gérard is in love with Maddalena; in order to get her for himself, he has Chénier arrested. The aria in which he makes this fateful decision is one of the most dramatic in the baritone repertoire: He cynically writes the accusations he knows to be false, then remembers how Chénier himself inspired his now-tarnished revolutionary zeal. Upon learning of Chénier's arrest, Maddalena comes to Gérard for help, telling him of the death of her mother, the loss of her home, and how Chénier's love transformed her life. Though Gérard tries to save Chénier, the hero is condemned at the the corrupt trial, and Maddalena joins him in the prison so that they can die together. Link
The aria that I have found to be the most dramatic and expressive is the one in which Maddalena goes to Gérard and tells of her mother's death ("La Mamma Morta"). The part of Maddalena di Coigny is played by Maria Callas.

As I made mention of a previous aria used in the movies, this too was used in a movie, Philadelphia. Tom Hanks' character (Andrew Beckett) is dying of AIDS and is discussing his trial with Denzel Washington (Joe Miller).

View the scene here.

Hanks does a wonderful job of highlighting the sorrow in the voice of Callas. While telling of the stylistic changes throughout the song we begin to understand the highly integrated thematic portrayal of Maddalena's struggle and desire to save the life of the one she loves.