This video tape has not been sitting around my house for years, but comes instead from deep in someone’s archives.
These days operas are filmed on location as movies, such as Zeffirelli’s opera films, or from the stage of opera houses with multiple cameras during performances. In 1955 when this black and white film of Umberto Giordano’s Andrea Chénier was made, operas were filmed for television on sound stages with cameras at eye level like a TV show. They appear also to be lip-syncing, which may account for why we can’t picture where the orchestra is. Inside Daisy Clover has a marvelous scene showing the heroine lip-syncing the song to the already existing film, but opera must work the other way round, like someone on Saturday Night Live. It's not like the opera movie with Sophia Loren--they are all lip-syncing themselves.
This film is notable for the presence of Mario del Monaco in the title role. In his prime his voice had a wonderful brilliance, most similar to Corelli, I suppose, which was very intense and beautiful. He had a tendency to over sing and suffered for it later in life, but at his peak he was physically and vocally very beautiful, as he certainly is in this film. He had his fanatical followers.
Giuseppe Taddei as Gerard and Antonietta Stella as Maddalena are also outstanding. This kind of intense singing is not common today. It’s wonderful to hear it.
The production is traditional, and when combined with the filming technique produces an oddly intimate realism. It’s very moving.