Monday, 23 August 2010

The real Andrea Chenier

Luigi Illica's libretto ANDREA CHENIER
Come un bel dì di maggio
che con bacio di vento
e carezza di raggio
si spegne in firmamento,
col bacio io d'una rima,
carezza di poesia,
salgo l'estrema cima
dell'esistenza mia.
La sfera che cammina
per ogni umana sorte
ecco già mi avvicina
all'ora della morte,
e forse pria che l'ultima
mia strofe sia finita,
m'annuncerà il carnefice
la fine della vita.
Sia! Strofe, ultima Dea!
ancor dona al tuo poeta
la sfolgorante idea,
la fiamma consueta;
io, a te, mentre
tu vivida a me sgorghi dal cuore,
darò per rima il gelido
spiro d'un uom che muore.

The aria is based on the poem of André Chénier
Come un dernier rayon, come un dernier zephyre
Animent la fin d'un beau jour
Au pied de l'echafaud j'essaye encor ma lyre.
Peut-etre est-ce bientot mon tour.
Peut-etre avant que l'heure en cercle promenee
ait pose sur l'email brillant,
dans les soixante pas ou sa route est bornee,
son pied sonore et vigilant;
Le sommeil du tombeau pressera ma paupiere

Who was André Chénier?
A French poet who was a revolutionary (a moderate one: a leader of les Feuillants) and he was executed during the French Revolution. Why? He was a moderate and he would write against not only the aristocrats but against the revolution leaders likes Robespierre and Marat and others. Hypocrisy and cruelty was something André Chénier fought against.

He was not only a revolutionary and a poet, he was one of France' best writers. He was a titan of poetry and knowledge. He had the disadvantage of coming from a not so wealthy family. His father was a too honest man to become very rich. His mother claimed Greek heritage. André's brothers was also engaged in the Revolution, except Constantin (b. 1757) who became a lawyer and worked for his father. Louis-Sauveur (b. 1761) had a career in the army. Marie-Joseph (1764-1811)  became a famous Jacobin. He was the official dramatist of the Revolution. He had a gift for making enemies where André had a gift for friendship. André-Marie Chénier was the 3rd son and was born on October 30th 1762 and he died on a scaffold on July 25th 1794.

The accusation against Chénier (the opera) and reality?

Nemico della Patria?!
È vecchia fiaba che beatamente
ancor la beve il popolo.
Nato a Costantinopoli? Straniero!
Studiò a Saint Cyr? Soldato!
Traditore! Di Dumouriez un complice!
E poeta? Sovvertitor di cuori e di costumi!

André and his brother Louis-Sauveur were both in Saint-Lazare prison at the same time. When André saw the accusation he saw it was a mix-up with him and his brother. To explain it would easily mean death for his brother and would probably not do him any good. To be a suspect and to have a suspect as brother would be worse. Louis-Sauveur had a soldier (general) with Dumourieuz. André was born in Costantinople and had been a soldier (a short while) and he was certainly a poet and had written against the excesses of revolution.

In opera we have usually a love story and Giordano gives us one with Maddalena de Coigny, the innocent Aristocrat daughter. The real de Coigny was Aimée de Coigny, duchessse de Fleury who was not so innocent. She was married into aristocracy and had many lovers. André knew her and of her and she was not his love interest. There was another lady who was his chaste love, one of his few chaste ones.

My source: André Chenier,  his life and work 1762-1974 by Francis Scarfe, Oxford University Press 1965.  Although the book is in English without good understanding of French it is not always easy to follow. It is written by scholar who is well versed in English and French poetry. The author quotes from letters and book in the original French. He does not use the space to outline in any detail what it means, so unless the reader understand French much goes amiss. Several poems of André Chenier is quoted in this book, naturally all in French.

List of plates  ix
Abbreviations  xi
Introduction  xiii

Part I
1. Beginnings 1
2. 'Gallus' 23
3. Passion and Revolt 46
4. The Chevalier in London (1787-90)

Part II
5. His Views on Poetry  92
6. The Elegies  126
7. The Didactic and Narrative Poems 146
8. The Bucoliques 162

Part III
9. First Steps in Politics (1790-1)  218
10. Chénier and the Feuillants  240
11. The Anti-Jacobin  258
12. The Suspect 281
13. Saint-Lazare 313
14. Thermidor  346

Conclusion 365

Appendix A. Boissy d'Anglas on Chénier  368
Appendix B. Lines written in Hood's Tavern  370
Appendix C. The Feuillant Manifesto  373

Bibliography 375


BONUS: Did you know that Roucher in the opera was already in Saint-Lazare when André came and they where executed on the same day...

For more reviews from my travels, see

No comments: