France in the year 1789. The aristocracy revels, the citizenry groans. And between two stools the poet André Chénier: adored by the rich for his touching verse, in his heart he remains a revolutionary.
Set against the background of the French Revolution, the opera André Chénier, which premiered at La Scala Milan in 1896, is a historical drama of sharp perceptivity and a human tragedy of devastating intensity; appealing both as a passionate love story and as a historical thriller. The central character is the eponymous French poet who got caught up in the turmoil of the revolution. First an enthusiastic supporter, he was appalled by the excesses of the tyrannical Jacobin regime, and was himself mercilessly persecuted and finally sent to the guillotine.
Lake Constance as bath tub. Director Keith Warner and set designer David Fielding have chosen The Death of Marat, an iconic painting by the revolutionary artist Jacques-Louis David, as the symbol and inspiration for their staging of André Chénier. It is the first time that a historical painting has served as the basis for a Bregenz stage set, which towers 24 metres high above Lake Constance.. It shows the radical revolutionary leader Jean-Paul Marat, who was stabbed in his bath by a sympathiser of an opposing party in 1793. In the Bregenz production, Lake Constance plays the role of the bath tub, in which the reclining figure of Marat towers up to 24 metres above the surface of the water. 154 steps lead up Marat's chest to his face. The head alone weighs 60 tonnes.
Music of stirring emotion. Giordano's music is exuberant, ardent, ferocious and stirring, and the work culminates in a hymn to fraternity, love – and liberty in death. In his score, Giordano incorporated historical dances and marches from the time before the French Revolution, along with classic revolutionary songs like "Ça ira" and the Marseillaise. Together with rousing arias and breathtaking duets they lend a unique flavour to the opera.
The Italian composer Umberto Giordano and his librettist Luigi Illica translated the name of the French revolutionary and eponymous hero of the opera, André Marie Chénier, into Italian. The French male first name "André" became the Italian male first name "Andrea" – which is why the opera is entitled Andrea Chénier in the original. The Bregenz production uses the historical figure's correct name for the title – André Chénier (the second name, Marie, is omitted). The revolutionary and poet was born in 1762 near Constantinople, today Istanbul, and was executed by guillotine in Paris in 1794.