Essay: Andrea Chenier Though Umberto Giordano

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[. . .] 152). In this way, one may claim that Andrea Chenier sets a revolutionary standard for itself that nonetheless allows for different interpretations and enactments, as this revolutionary standard is in each production "realized in a unique combination of dramaturgy, musical style, costumes, and staging" (Giger, 2008, p. 433).

In general, the Grand Theatre's production of Andrea Chenier fails to live up to the potential of its libretto, and this failure seems to stem from a fundamental misunderstanding of the opera's ideological position, coupled with a relatively pedestrian interpretation of the possibilities of the space of the stage in the modern world. Because there are numerous details contributing to the altogether mundane production of Andrea Chenier put on the Grand Theatre, one may simply begin with the most obvious failures before noting those areas in which the performance at least succeeded in the bare minimum.

Thus, the first aspect of the Grand Theatre's production to strike the audience is likely the appearance of the costumes and makeup. Judging by the makeup and the choice of colors and fabrics, the visual appearance of the characters was generally ignored as a possible location of artistic innovation. In particular, because the entire aesthetic of French aristocracy has been so thoroughly investigated and adapted by any number of films and plays with varying degrees of novelty or mundanity, one cannot help but be disappointed at the way in which the Grand Theatre chose to essentially color within the lines of accepted representation, such that the aristocracy appears to the modern audience largely as caricature, lacking any of the very real power and threat they would have held even at the dawn of the French Revolution. Put another way, through the boring reiteration of standard representations of French aristocracy, the production blunts the opera's revolutionary emphasis, because the entrenched authority Chenier rails against appear as nothing more than a collection of scandalized clowns. While one might argue that the choice of costumes was made with an eye towards historical reality, a look at the areas in which the production is decidedly "modern" reveals that this is no excuse.

Following Chenier's initial entreaty against the aristocracy, the stage actually begins to move, tilting to one side in a kind of lazy representation of the tumult produced by the revolution. This effect, of having the stage move via hydraulic lifts, is the kind of thing that might have been considered interesting or novel twenty years ago. Now, however, when hundreds of thousands of tourists can flock to Las Vegas every year in order to see Cirque du Soleil stages moving with quite the same grace and fluidity of their acrobats, the choice to move the stage feels contrived and lazy, because it essentially attempts to generate extra meaning without bothering to earn it. The moving stage is essentially a gimmick intended to "wow" the audience by ostensibly showing how the Revolution has altered the state of affairs so much that even the ground itself is no longer stable, but it never achieves this level of impressiveness. Instead, it hovers on the line between impressive and unremarkable, falling squarely into the "annoying" category, because while it does not move nearly enough to justify its inclusion, but does move just enough so as to disrupt the experience of the performances.

Like the costumes, the use of the stage in this way ultimately serves to undermine any revolutionary impetus of the opera, because it demonstrates how fully Andrea Chenier, like nearly all revolutionary or else rebellious texts, has been commodified and essentialized so that it may be reproduced in a way that pretends to offer criticism of power or authority but which in fact implicitly reinforces that authority through the lazy reiteration of assumptions regarding performance and the stage. However, this should not be taken to mean that any production of Andrea Chenier must hold to a single ideal, but rather the opposite; the revolutionary, verismo ideology of the opera demands that its production be oriented against previous, stagnated forms of representation. The halfhearted use of a moving stage is precisely this kind of stagnated representation, made obvious by the fact that one may easily point out an entire series of franchised stage performances which have used a moving stage to far greater effect, such that this "particular mechanical process" only serves to reinforce the idea that this production is merely that; a mechanized, commodified, and ultimately rote performance of an opera whose ideology and meaning are largely secondary to its ability to sell tickets due to an ever-present fascination with the French Revolution (Looby, 1995, p. 109).

The Grand Theatre's production only becomes more embarrassing as it goes on, with perhaps the laziest attempt at grandeur coming from the inclusion of a giant statue of Jean-Paul Marat's head. At best, the use of the giant head reminds one of Pina Bausch's elaborate work with sets and set pieces, but only enough that one wishes Bausch had been brought back to life in order to direct the production, instead of John Fiore. At worst, it represents another instance of this production's choice to attempt only the most obvious, trite, and ultimately boring means of telling the story.

Up until now this analysis has not mentioned the direction specifically, because the largest failures seem to be on the part of the entire company, rather than any one person. Furthermore, the performances themselves are generally admirable considering the context in which the performers find themselves. In fact, the only criticism one might make of them is that they perform their roles, meaning simply that their contribution ultimately gives the entire production more respect and legitimacy than it deserves, in the same way that crowds cheering at a politician's speech, while admirably demonstrating their engagement in civic life, also serve to reinforce the power and authority of that politician. In fact, considering how fully the Grand Theatre botched its production of Andrea Chenier, one might go so far as to say that it would have been more in line with the opera's political and aesthetic ideology for the performers to perform out of costume and off-stage.

The analysis of the Grand Theatre of Geneve's production of Andrea Chenier provided here may seem unduly harsh and more concerned with the visual and physical aspects of the production than the performance itself, and to this one may reply that the latter is true while the former is not. The focus on the visual and physical aspects of the production is necessary, because despite the claims of critics and fans alike, the individual performance of any given performer has much less to do in the creation of meaning than those attributes which remain consistent across performances, especially in instances where the show is running for an extended period of time. Aside from a few of the most famous performers, what ultimately influences the current and future reception of a text are the most obvious features, meaning costumes, staging, and set pieces (if there are any). This is especially true the older a text is, because each production provides a new layer of possibility to be integrated into the next production, such that every performance of a text implicitly comments upon every one before (even if the individuals responsible for that performance are wholly unaware of previous productions). Thus, the lazy costume design, the gimmick of a moving stage, and the giant head of Jean-Paul Marat all serve to comment upon previous incarnations of Andrea Chenier, and they seem to be saying that there is nothing new under the sun.

As for the harshness of this critique, it should suffice to point out that the discussion of any cultural production is no more or less than a discussion of the future of the human race, because all cultural production either stands on the side of freedom and the disruption of power or else serves to maintain authority in the hands of the already powerful. There is no middle ground, because anything that is not explicitly ideological is actually implicitly ideological in that it favors the status quo. In the case of Andrea Chenier, one can identify a number of features which mark it as a distinctly revolutionary text aimed at disrupting the authority of the status quo, not by advocating violence, but rather by suggesting the importance of breaking from previous modes of representation. It is a distinctly verismo text in that it orients itself against previously defined standards regarding the acceptable parameters of artistic creation, but the Grand Theatre production serves to neuter this revolutionary character by using visual and physical ways of meaning that serve to reiterate the letter of the text while simultaneously acting against… [END OF PREVIEW]

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Andrea Chenier Though Umberto Giordano.  (2011, October 15).  Retrieved May 20, 2019, from https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/andrea-chenier-umberto-giordano/75526

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