Above: The French poet André Chénier was one of the last people executed during the Reign of Terror; he had been charged with "crimes against the state". Three days after Chénier was guillotined, Maximilien Robespierre himself met the same fate. Robespierre had been head of the Committee for Public Safety which condemned an estimated 50,000 people to death during the Reign of Terror. With Robespierre's execution, the Reign of Terror ended.
In Act III of Umberto Giordano's opera ANDREA CHENIER, Carlo Gérard prepares the indictment against Chénier. Gérard recalls how he had fervently joined the Revolution and wonders how he has come to this: collaborating in the death sentences of men he knows to be good and just.
In the course of this great aria, Nemico della patria ("Enemy of the Fatherland"), Gérard realizes he is only a pawn of the Committee for Public Safety. Called on to read the charges against Chenier at the trial, Gérard instead passionately defends the poet. Nevertheless, the death sentence is quickly handed down. In the opera's final scene, set in the Saint Lazare prison, Gérard is still trying to get Chenier released, but to no avail.
The words of the aria are timely in our day and age:
"Enemy of the fatherland?!
It’s an old fable
That people still blissfully swallow.
Born in Constantinople? A Foreigner!
Studied at Saint-Cyr? A Soldier!
Traitor! Accomplice to Dumouriez!
And a poet? A corrupter of hearts
I once lived joyfully
Without hatred or vengeance...
Pure, innocent and strong,
I thought myself a giant.
But I’m just a servant
Who has changed masters:
An obedient servant to their violent, sadistic passions!
Ah, worse yet: I kill...!
And while I kill, I'm weeping!
Me, a son of the Revolution,
The first to hear its cry...!
For the world, I united that cry to my own!
Have I now lost faith
In that dream of destiny?
Oh, how my path
Shone with glory!
The heart’s conscience...
Reawakening the people,
Gathering up the tears
Of the vanquished and suffering,
Making the world a Pantheon,
Changing men into gods!
And with one kiss,
To embrace all mankind!?