Andrea Chénier


Andrea Chénier, a poet, Tenor
Maddalena di Coigny, Soprano
Carlo Gérard, a servant, then a revolutionary leader,Baritone
Countess di Coigny, Maddalena's Mother, Mezzo-Soprano
Bersi, Maddalena's mulatto maid, Mezzo-Soprano
L'Incredibile, a spy, Tenor
Roucher, a poet and friend of Chénier, Bass or Baritone
Mathieu, a revolutionary, Baritone
Madelon, an old blind woman, Mezzo-Soprano
Fouquier-Tinville, prosecutor of the Revolutionary Tribunal, Bass or Baritone
Pietro Fléville, a writer, Bass or Baritone
The Abbé, a poet, Tenor
Schmidt, a jailor of St. Lazare Prison, Bass
Dumas, President of the Tribunal, Bass
Majordomo, Bass
Offstage Newsboy
Guests of the Countess, servants, peasants, revolutionaries, citizens, judges, prisoners.

Act I | Act II | Act III | Act IV | Comments.


Act I

Setting: The Ballroom of the Château di Coigny, June 1789.
The French Revolution is looming on the horizon.

Servants are preparing for an evening of socializing and dancing. Gérard, a servant, enters carrying a heavy sofa. All leave except for Gérard who imagines himself entertaining guests. Gérard's father enters laboring under the weight of a heavy piece of furniture. Gérard curses the masters who have kept him and his father in this manner. He declares that the time has come for the charade to end and for his class to rise up and claim its rightful position.

Maddalena and Bersi enter discussing the up-coming party. Gérard comments on Maddalena's beauty as the Countess enters. She chastises Maddalena for dallying when she should be preparing herself for the party. Maddalena dresses reluctantly. The guests begin arriving in their finery. Among the guests is Fléville, a writer. With him are two men - Filandro Fiorinelli, a musician, and Andrea Chénier, a poet. Their presence is scarcely noticed as the Abbé arrives bearing the latest news from Paris.

The crowd settles down as singers dressed as shepherds and shepherdesses sing a song of farewell. The Countess turns to Chénier and asks him to rouse his muse for a poem. Chénier replies that his muse is shy and does not wish to speak. The Countess replies that his muse is melancholy as the group prepares to listen to Fiorinelli play the clavichord. Maddalena has been talking with her friends and bets them that she can make Chénier recite. She approaches Chénier and asks him to recite one of his odes or sonnets for a nun or a bride. Chénier replies that his muse does not respond to commands, and adds, "Poetry is quite as capricious as love." This draws a laugh from Maddalena which attracts the attention of the Countess and her guests who ask what happened. Maddalena tells them that they had made a bet that she could make Chénier say the word love- a word several had said to her this evening without the help of a muse.

Chénier takes offense and tells Maddalena to listen to how the word `love' can sound. He tells of a world filled with beauty - in particular his beautiful country (Un di all'azzurro). He went to a church to pray. As he entered the church, a priest was holding services. The priest turned a deaf ear to the entreaties of an old man pleading for food. At this, several of the clergymen in attendance become enraged. He goes on to say that he entered a cottage where a man cursed the soil that could barely pay his taxes, against God and against man. ``Surrounded with such suffering, what do the nobility do?'' he asks as he looks around the room. He focuses on Maddalena and comments on her beautiful features and the compassionate soul that is inside her. He tells her not to scorn his words nor love itself. Love is the soul and life of the world. Maddalena, deeply moved, asks Chénier for forgiveness.

Maddalena and Chénier leave as the guests pair off and begin a gavotte. From a distance, voices are heard decrying the miserable conditions in which the lower classes live. Gérard enters the hall with some peasants crying, ``His highness: Misery!'' The countess looks over the group and asks who has let them in. Gérard declares that it was he as the Countess orders them out. Gérard declares that he is leaving, that his livery weighs him down, and the bread he eats is vile. Gérard's father enters and begs the Countess to forgive his son. Gérard throws his livery at the Countess's feet and leads his father out with the other peasants. The Countess assuages her conscience by commenting on her gifts to the poor and the fact that she dresses humbly to avoid embarrassing them. She composes herself and the Gavotte continues. In the background, the cry of the peasants is heard as the act closes.

Act II

Setting: The Cafe Hottot in Paris, June 1794.

Bersi and L'Inredibile are sharing a table as Bersi asks if it is true that Robespierre is training spies. L'Incredibile asks if she means, `Observers of the public spirit?' He replies that he has no idea and asks if she is afraid. Bersi asks why should she fear anything, declaring herself to be a child of the Revolution. A tumbrel loaded with condemned prisoners passes by on its way to the guillotine. A crowd follows it, shouting and mocking the prisoners. L'Incredibile watches Bersi leave and says that the blonde he has been looking for was with her earlier. He comments on Chénier, who has been waiting for several hours at a nearby table.

Roucher enters and greets Chénier. Roucher has brought him a passport, which Chénier at first rejects. He declares that he believes in destiny, declaring his destiny to be love (Credo a una possanza arcana). He tells of receiving letters from a mysterious woman. Chénier has been trying to discover the source of these letters. Roucher inspects her latest letter in which she suggests a meeting. Upon closer examination, Roucher dismisses the letter, proclaiming it to be written by a streetwalker! He encourages Chénier once again to take the passport, which he does.

A crowd forms to greet a procession from the palace. Gérard and Robespierre are among the crowd. L'Incredibile approaches Gérard and asks for more details about the woman he has been ordered to find. Gérard describes her and L'Incredibile declares that Gérard will see her this very evening.

A crowd of streetwalkers gathers, among them Bersi who approaches Roucher. She pleads with him to prevent Chénier from leaving. L'Incredibile approaches Bersi and asks if she will accompany him. She goes with him for one dance, leaving a distraught Chénier with Roucher. Roucher finally convinces Chénier to leave as Bersi quickly enters. She tells Chénier that a woman will soon come to see him and tells him to wait by Marat's Altar. He asks her name and Bersi tells him, `Hope.' Roucher fears an ambush. L'Incredibile declares that his plan is now in action.

Maddalena, dressed in a hooded cloak, enters hesitantly and asks if he is Chénier. He replies yes as she reminds him of their first meeting. She tells him she has always admired him from a distance. She says she is all alone, frightened, and asks him to protect her. In an ardent duet, they declare their love for each other and swear to remain together until death (Ora soave, sublime ora d'amore!).

Gérard suddenly enters, declaring that at last he has found Maddalena. Chénier tells Gérard to leave and sends Maddalena away with Roucher. Gérard and Chénier exchange sword blows and Gérard is wounded. He warns Chénier to flee, as Fouquier-Tinville has his name. L'Incredibile returns with soldiers and a crowd. They ask Gérard to name his attacker, but he answers, `an unknown.' The crowd calls for vengeance as Gérard is carried away and the curtain falls.


Setting: The Courtroom of the Revolutionary Tribunal, July 24, 1794.

Mathieu is trying to rouse the gathered crowd into giving donations to the revolution. The people do not respond until the recovered Gérard appears. He calls upon the people to give what they can, even their sons, to the great Motherland. An old blind woman appears with a young boy. She declares that this is her grandson and that he is all she has left in the world. She begs Gérard to take him, and he agrees. She bids a passionate farewell to her grandson as she is led away.

The crowd disperses as L'Incredibile approaches Gérard to tell him the trap is set. Chénier has been taken into custody. L'Incredibile declares that Maddalena will come looking for him. He tells Gérard to draw up the accusation against Chénier for the Tribunal. Gérard hesitates, reasoning that Chénier has already been marked by Fouquier-Tinville. He asks himself ironically, `An enemy of his country?' (Nemico della patria?). He reflects on his disillusionment with power and his own corruption. He has forgotten the goals of the revolution. His new master has become his sensuality. L'Incredibile returns for the indictment to deliver to the Tribunal.

Maddalena enters, much to Gérard's joy. He declares that he had Chénier arrested in order to attain her. Gérard says he wants to hold and love her. She declares that she will run to her death by screaming her name in the streets. She tells him that if the price of Chénier's life is her body, then so be it. Gérard is deeply moved by her love for Chénier. Maddalena begins to tell him of her mother's death (La mamma morta). She declares that she brings terrible fortune to those who love her. Suddenly she realized that Love is life. She says an angel approached her and told her he would protect her, but the kiss she received was that of death. She tells Gérard to have his way with her as she is dead already.

A clerk approaches with a list of the accused. Chénier's name is on it. Maddalena begs Gérard to save him. He promises that he will do it even though it was he who betrayed him. A crowd enters the courtroom discussing the upcoming trials and complains about the price of bread. The judges enter, followed by the prisoners. The trial begins as the first names are read aloud. The accused are given no chance to respond to the charges. Chénier's name is called and it is charged that he wrote and fought against the Revolution. Chénier is given a chance to defend himself (Si, fui soldato). He declares that, Yes he was a soldier; Yes he was a writer, writing against hypocrites. He declares that their corruption cannot touch him. ``I am not a traitor! Kill me? Yes, but leave me my honor!''

A call is made for the evidence and Gérard comes forward. He says that he had accused Chénier falsely. Fouquier-Tinville makes the accusations his own as Gérard, at great risk, tells the judges that justice's real name is `Tyranny!' He declares that they are killing their own country. Gérard concludes that, ``Outside, men are dying, valiantly defending their country; but here we murder our poets!''

The judges debate as Chénier and Gérard embrace. Chénier calls him a generous man and says that he has been moved to tears. Gérard tells him to look in the crowd for Maddalena. Chénier sees her and replies that now he can die happily. Dumas reads the verdict that has been handed to him. He sentences them to death, and the condemned are led away to the jeers of the crowd. Maddalena, alone, declares that she will see him again.

Act IV

Setting: St. Lazare Prison, July 25, 1794.

Roucher and Chénier are together for the last time. Chénier has been writing a few verses which he reads at Roucher's urging (Come un bel dì di Maggio). Roucher leaves. Mathieu is heard singing La Marseillaise. Gérard and Maddalena enter. Maddalena has been granted permission for a final meeting with Chénier. She reminds Gérard of his promise as she asks the jailor about a woman scheduled to be executed that morning. She bribes him to let her take the woman's place. Maddalena welcomes her destiny and death. Gérard says that it is an enviable fate and rushes off to Robespierre to once again plead clemency. Chénier enters and Maddalena embraces him. An ardent duet follows (Vicino a te s'acquesta). Maddalena proclaims that this is not a farewell, but an end to their suffering. Both are called to the tumbrel as they cry, ``Long Live Death! Together!'' The curtain falls as they are led to the guillotine.


I am providing the English translation of the beginning of the final duet:

When I am near you, calm overtakes my rebellious spirit.
You are the object of my every desire, of every dream, of every poem.
Within your glance I see the radiance of infinite expanses.
I look at you. In the green waves of your large eyes, I roam with my soul!

I am here so that I may never leave you. This is not a farewell!
I have come to die with you! The suffering has ended.
I seek death, loving you!
Ah, the one who received the last words from my lips is he. . .Love!

synopsis © Stephen L. Parker, 1996

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Monday, 08-Dec-2003 21:44:08 PST