Usually known for a few isolated but splendid arias, especially the heroine's "La mamma morta", this opera, set during the French Revolution and based on the real life of the French poet André Chénier, is well worth hearing in full. It is well paced and lasts barely two hours, a plus mark in my book!
The two stars Mario del Monaco and Maria Callas are the aces here, and Antonino Votto, assistant to Toscanini at La Scala, who is a very exciting conductor. There are obviously great gains to be had from hearing del Monaco and Callas live - and Callas was at her peak vocally and dramatically in the fifties. The downside is the recorded sound: there is occasional quite bad distortion, especially on Callas's high notes and none of the singers' voices comes across as clearly as in a studio recording of the same vintage. On the other hand, there is quite a good balance between voices and orchestra.
Recommended with slight reservations. For better sound, go to the 'Decca' version with del Monaco and Tebaldi.