Pick up the phone now, dial Leeds Grand and book a ticket to see Opera North’s Andre Chenier – it is that good.
Despite not having the instantly recognisable arias of a Mozart or Puccini opera, Giordano’s masterpiece has dramatic power and, under Annabel Arden’s direction, considerable menace.
Stage sets (Joanna Parker) corroborate themes and action with frivolous curtaining for Act 1, murderous terraces for the trial scene in Acts 2 and 3 and then emptiness for Act 4 as the lovers stroll arm-in-arm to the guillotine.
But the major feature of the evening was some astonishing singing: cast and chorus were extremely strong. Robert Haywards’ tortured Gerard gave us an Everyman character veering between certainty and doubt. He sets out his stall right from the start with a compelling Compiacente a colloqui.
Immediately the Mexican tenor Rafael Rojas as Chenier launched into his first aria we knew we were in for something special. Despite the eagerness of conductor Oliver von Dohnanyi to hurry the plot along, the audience demanded the right to stop the action and applaud fine performances.
Annemarie Kremer’s soprano represented Maddelena as a powerful woman who had Sidney Carton’s sacrifice as inspiration. She matched Rafael Rojas in crescendos and the intensity of her singing, but could also melt the stoniest hearts in the final prison scene.
Mezzo Fiona Kimm had two contrasting roles: the the air-head Contessa in Act 1 and then the blind Madelon in Act 3.