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© Wiener Staatsoper / Michael Pöhn


Gustav Mahler was enthusiastic about Giordano's Andrea Chénier - as director of the Hofoper, however, he was not allowed to perform the work - the censors were offended by the theme of the French Revolution. So, Mahler switched to Fedora. Puccini, on the other hand, was not one of Mahler's favorite composers. What does Giordano, especially Andrea Chénier, have that Puccini does not? What distinguishes this score? 

JONAS KAUFMANN Not only Mahler, but also other great conductors have been rather dismissive of Puccini. The reason, I think, is that Puccini pushed the audience's emotional buttons too deliberately for their liking. It is so obvious that he has his audience quite literally in the palm of his hand - which is why the effect of his music is often compared to film music, where, after all, the emotions of the audience are played with in a very striking way.

The opera Andrea Chénier in particular belongs to the great "singer operas", i.e. to those works that the greatest singers of all generations have always strived to sing (unlike, for example, a Simon Boccanegra). To what extent have certain traditions developed here that are perhaps not notated, but nevertheless belong to the interpretation in a certain way?

JONAS KAUFMANN I have noticed time and again that in the course of performance history certain musical practices have developed that are not in the composer's sense, but rather in the singer's sense - either to defuse difficult passages or to perform a circus act. In the case of Andrea Chénier, there is enough material to savor as a singer, there is no need to think of extras

The tenor can refer to a number of (relatively short) arias in this opera: How do they differ?

JONAS KAUFMANN I wouldn't call "Improvviso" short; in fact, it's one of the longest titles in the Verismo repertoire. It is the stormy, rebellious monologue of a freedom fighter. The second tenor scene, in duet with Roucher, is the expression of a romantic passionate love, the third is the defense speech of the condemned to death, who rebels against arbitrariness and lies. And the last, incredibly tender solo scene is the touching farewell of a great artist from this world.

Maddalena is clearly going through a development, Gérard as well. But does this also apply to Andrea Chénier? Or does he remain the same romantic idealist throughout, regardless of any external changes? What does the music tell us about his character?

JONAS KAUFMANN Music and text draw a character with many facets: The youthful idealist who doesn't mince words; the former revolutionary who has to stay in hiding; the lover and poet; and finally the political pawn. Chénier does not die in bitterness, but blossoms in the face of his execution, because death together with his beloved is one of the most beautiful things he can imagine.

In the second picture, Maddalena and Chénier sing of being »united until death« («Fino alla morte insiem«) at their first meeting since the outbreak of the revolution. They will be united in death together at the end (»Viva la morte insiem«). But in the second image, wouldn't it be more appropriate to speak of life than to immediately assume a death into which they want to go together?

JONAS KAUFMANN The longing for death is, of course, something highly romantic. For someone who buries himself in his literature and in words eroticism the idea of a common death is the highest of feelings. This is the poet speaking, not the human being.

Does Chénier love Maddalena from the beginning? Or ever at all? Or: at what point does he love her, is there a moment when he becomes inflamed? One gets the sense that Chénier is looking for love in itself - he stays in Paris to meet someone he doesn't know, even at the risk of being killed. But he doesn't do it for the sake of a specific person. What is this attitude? What drives him fundamentally?

JONAS KAUFMANN I'm not sure it's a physical relationship he's looking for. In the first act he falls in love with Maddalena, but is extremely disappointed when he finds that she too has fallen for the snobbery of the aristocracy. In the scene with Roucher, he burns for a stranger with whom he maintains an intense pen friendship and whom he must get to know at all costs. Then, when he learns that this stranger, who calls herself »Speranza,« is Maddalena, what he never dared to dream of comes to fruition.

It is interesting to compare Cavaradossi and Andrea Chénier: Cavaradossi waits in despair for execution and thinks of his love for Tosca. Andrea Chénier does not seem to be particularly desperate and sings of poetry in his last aria. With such behavior, can one even speak of verismo in Chénier's case?

JONAS KAUFMANN I don't know if you can compare it so directly. In spite of the police terror in Rome, we are far away in Tosca from a situation like the young Chénier experiences during the French Revolution: day after day, masses of people are arrested and publicly executed, and I think that one can develop a kind of death wish in such an extreme situation.

Does Chénier know the feeling of fear at all? In his condemnation, he is primarily disturbed by the fact that his honor is soiled; at the end, one even thinks to have a triumphator in front of him.

JONAS KAUFMANN As the saying goes, "he who is afraid in the woods whistles". This applies somewhat to his monologue in the third act, when he defends his honor before the tribunal, speaks for his homeland's inspiration for the revolution. That he is not a stranger to fear, and is already understanding of the fact that he is not only worried about himself, but also about Maddalena. There, one already notices that his heart is still very much devoted to life.

Would Chénier, as a character in a "normal" life be an interesting counterpart for a woman at all? Isn't it his fate that makes him special?

JONAS KAUFMANN The exceptional situation in which Chénier finds himself makes it difficult to judge how he would behave in a "normal" life. The reasons and motives for why Maddalena falls in love with him are certainly not those of a »normal« young woman.

Chénier is a poet, Cavaradossi a painter - so they are both artists. Is it not more difficult to mime an artist than, for example, an Egyptian or Venetian general, purely from the point of view of acting? How does an artist put an artist on stage without overdrawing him and still taking this aspect into account. Or is the fact that Chénier is a poet in fact beside the point.

I don't see any difficulty in embodying an artist on stage. I think that I can rather put myself in the position of an artist than in that of a general. I am certainly further removed from the world of the latter than from that of a painter or poet.

November 30 / 3. / 6. / 9. December 2022
Musical direction
Francesco Lanzillotta
Based on a production by
Otto Schenk
Stage Rolf Glittenberg
Costumes Milena Canonero
With KS Jonas Kaufmann / KS Carlos Álvarez /
Maria Agresta / Isabel Signoret / Michael Arivony