MP3-1067400 ANDREA CHENIER-SEATTLE 1996
Seattle Opera April 27 to May 11,1996
Andrea Chenier:Ben Heppner
Gerard:Richard Paul Fink
Countess di Coigny:Shirley Hamed
Bersi: Kathleen Hegierski
The Seattle Opera Orchestra and Chorus
Monday, April 29, 1996
Seattle Opera Scores Triumph With `Andrea Chenier'
By Melinda Bargreen
Seattle Times Music Critic
Opera review"Andrea Chenier," by Umberto Giordano, in Seattle Opera production, with Steven Mercurio
conducting; Opera House, last Saturday, continuing Wednesday through May 11 (389-7676).
Some opera performances crackle with energy from the first downbeat to the final curtain; that's the kind of
energy that infused the opening night of Seattle Opera's "Andrea Chenier" on Saturday.
A lot of the excitement was due to the appearance of tenor Ben Heppner in the title role for the first time in
his career - and another career first for his Maddalena, Diane Soviero (they've both sung the roles in
concert before, but never in a staged production).
Maybe it was the extra element of drama attached to these "firsts," and maybe it was just seeing two
outstanding singers in roles to which they gave a passionate commitment. Whatever the reasons,
however, Heppner and Soviero sang as if their lives depended on it, surrounded by a first-rate supporting
cast and a supercharged orchestra under the baton of Steven Mercurio.
Heppner is glorious
The Canadian-born Heppner is widely regarded as today's leading young dramatic tenor, and a Wagnerian
of great distinction. He doesn't have the Italianate sound that many tenors bring to "Andrea Chenier" - most
notably Franco Corelli, who sang the role unforgettably here in 1968 - but he scores a great success
singing the role his way. Heppner's huge, glorious voice fills the title role with a passionate intensity
beyond anything he has yet sung in Seattle.
The effect was electric. The usually mild-mannered opening-night audience shrieked and shouted after
Heppner's opening Improvviso; more lengthy tributes arrived in the wake of the subsequent arias and
duets with Soviero.
A riveting actress, Soviero projected the most affecting fragility and vulnerability as Maddalena, making
her final courageous gestures all the more telling. Vocally and dramatically, this role is so right for her that
it was hard to believe Saturday was her debut performance.
A brilliant Gerard
The crucial baritone role of Gerard was sung brilliantly by Richard Paul Fink, who gave a big, honest
performance as the opera's most conflicted character. His third-act scene with Maddalena - staged
expertly by Bernard Uzan, who knows how to heighten the drama of confrontations as well as crowd
scenes - displayed a vocal mastery of the role and the most impassioned understanding of the character.
Kathleen Hegierski brought both heart and soul to the crucial supporting role of Bersi. Shirley Harned was
a brilliant Contessa; Sheila Nadler virtually stopped the show in her brief but emotionally powerful
appearance as Madelon. Byron Ellis, Paul Gudas, Matthew Lau, Archie Drake and Barry Johnson all gave
remarkably well-characterized performances.
Visual and aural passion
Mercurio gave the orchestra the kind of full rein that would have overpowered most casts, but not this one;
suffice it to say that there were no flat or static musical moments. Uzan extracted every ounce of drama
from the crowd scenes, conveying all the passion, peril and paranoia of the French Revolution. (Uzan also
is co-designer of the scenery, with Michel Beaulac; it was originally created for L'Opera de Montreal). The
Seattle Opera Chorus, rehearsed by George Fiore, was at the top of its form for some splendid singing
and effective acting.
This is a show to catch, if you can. This is a cast that's as good as any assembled at today's leading
opera houses. Forget all the Three Tenors hype and come to hear a Real Tenor.
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