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Libretto by Luigi Illica
France, 1789. While preparing the gilded salon for a party, Carlo Gérard, a rebellious servant in the Countess de Coigny's château, fulminates against the system that makes slaves of some and masters of others. The servant Bersi attends to the Countess' daughter, Madeleine, whom Gérard secretly loves, before the arrival of the first guests, among them the poet Fléville and his protégé Andrea Chenier. After an elaborate entertainment, Maddalena teases the embarrassed Chénier into improvising a poem about love. Praising France's natural beauty, Chénier scandalizes the assembly by deploring avarice and indifference in the priesthood and aristocracy, and leaves after berating the apologetic Maddalena. Gérard announces a group of starving beggars as "His Highness Poverty," but they are ordered out by the Countess. Stripping off his livery, Gérard leaves with them.
The Terror is established. A spy, L'Incredibile, suspects Bersi of connivance with Chénier, who sits nearby. Chénier's friend Roucher urges him to flee the country, but Chénier refuses, declaring he will seek his destiny in Paris, perhaps at the hands of the woman (Madeleine) who writes anonymously to him. Gérard, now a popular hero, asks L'Incredibile to find Maddalena, who later comes to Chénier and receives the poet's promise of protection, love and fidelity. Informed by the spy, Gérard returns to the Café Hottot to seize Maddalena, at first not recognizing Chénier, who wounds him in the ensuing scuffle. Roucher rescues Maddalena. Gérard warns Chénier that he is in danger. When the crowd comes to avenge Gérard, he tells them that he did not recognize his assailant.
In a courtroom tribunal, Mathieu vainly harangues the crowd for contributions; not until the fiery Gérard exhorts them do they respond. An old blind woman, Madelon, offers her grandson to the army and leaves as a revolutionary song is sung outside. Gérard, inspired by L'Incredibile but filled with shame, plans Chénier's arraignment to flush Maddalena out of hiding. The desolate Madeleine now comes in, offering herself to Gérard to save Chénier, describing her mother's murder and her own fugitive life during the Revolution. Gérard promises to intercede for Chénier, but at the trial the poet is condemned to death in spite of his eloquent defense.
In prison, Chénier reads his last poem to Roucher, who has bribed the jailer to let him visit his friend, and they bid each other farewell. Gérard enters with Maddalena, disguised as one of the condemned. She intends to die with Chénier, and as Gérard leaves, still hoping to secure a pardon for them, they share brief ecstatic moments before being called to the guillotine. They welcome the fate that joins them forever.
Metropolitan Opera 1997
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