Umberto Giordano’s Andrea Chénieris a good old-fashioned operatic potboiler. Premiered at La Scala in 1896, the story is very loosely based on real events. Its titular hero did indeed meet his end via guillotine during the French Revolution, but in this telling it’s thanks to the machinations of his rival in love, Carlo Gérard. A prominent figure in the Revolution, Gérard once served in the household of the noblewoman Maddalena de Coigny, naturally the mutual object of their affections. Maddalena, in love with Chénier, spurns Gérard at first but comes close to bartering her body in order to rescue her beloved, in vain. The opera ends with both of their deaths.

Ludovic Tézier, Pinchas Steinberg, Eva-Maria Westbroek and Jonas Kaufmann in Opera Australia’s  Andrea Chénier. Photo © Keith Saunders

If that’s awfully reminiscent of Tosca, it’s because the librettos for both works were written by Puccini’s frequent collaborator, Luigi Illica. But don’t expect the same musical sophistication or dramatic immediacy of Puccini’s “shabby little shocker” – Chénieris undoubtedly a lesser opera. The plot is thin and the melodies are few, made even more apparent when presented in concert – it’s a very...