- Julian Budden
Dramma istorico in four acts (‘tableaux’) by Umberto Giordano to a libretto by Luigi Illica; Milan, Teatro alla Scala, 28 March 1896.
Illica’s libretto, inspired by the life of the French poet André Chénier (1762–94), was ceded to Giordano in 1894 by Alberto Franchetti, for whom it was written. The opera was completed in mid-November the following year. After some hesitation it was accepted for performance at La Scala on the strong recommendation of Mascagni, and it proved the only success of a disastrous season given at that theatre under the management of the publisher Sonzogno, who excluded from the cartello all works belonging to his rival, Ricordi. The principals were Giuseppe Borgatti (Chénier), then at the start of his career, Evelina Carrera (Maddalena) and Mario Sammarco (Gérard); the conductor was Rodolfo Ferrari. Andrea Chénier at once raised the composer to the front rank of the ‘giovane scuola’, along with Mascagni, Puccini and Leoncavallo. Today it remains the most widely performed of Giordano’s operas, mainly as an effective vehicle for a star tenor. Borgatti owed to it the start of a notable Italian career. Outstanding exponents in recent times have included Franco Corelli and Placido Domingo....