Berlioz - Les Troyens / Graham, Antonacci, Kunde, Tezier, Naouri, Pokupic, Gardiner, Chatelet Opera
DVD | Box Set
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Berlioz's grand opera Les Troyens received its premiere performance at the Théâtre Lyrique in 1863 in a heavily cut version which only featured the last three acts set in Carthage. Berlioz never saw it performed and, due to its epic scale and the forces required to perform it, Troyens was never staged complete as the composer intended. In terms of artistic ambition Les Troyens follows in the footsteps of Rossini's monumental Guillaume Tell (1829), which also was heavily cut at its premiere, and anticipates the later music dramas of Wagner. In 2003 the complete Les Troyens was triumphantly staged at Le Châtelet in Paris and Opus arte is thrilled to present this 3 DVD visual document of this lavish production. American Gregory Kunde, known for his great in the French operatic repertoire, as Aeneas and Anna Catarina Antonacci as Dido leads an international cast that also includes Susan Graham and Topi Lehtipuu. John Eliot Gardiner, one of the leading Berlioz conductors of our times, conducts. A truly unforgettable experience.Press Reviews
"In October 2003 John Eliot Gardiner with his Monteverdi Choir and the Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique had a great success when they visited Paris to give Berlioz's epic opera in the relatively intimate Theatré du Châtelet but, as the video shows, the stage production by Yannis Kokkos neatly achieves clarity and directness in the complex plot with an economical but effective staging....The performance gains from the fine singing in the central role of Cassandra of Anna Caterina Antonacci, then coming to the fore as a star of the future. Ludovic Tezier is also excellent as her lover Chorebus, and the final chorus of Trojan women, led by Cassandra, brings a thrilling climax." (The Penguin Guide)
"Les Troyens hasn't fared well on DVD, but this superb authentic-instrument performance of October 2003 from the Théâtre du Châtelet, Paris, equals Sir Colin Davis's pioneering original. Orchestrally it's everything we've come to expect from Gardiner's Berlioz, his tempi swift and dynamic, sharing the composer's delight in complex rhythmic interplay, yet always propelling the drama. Passages like Andromache's entrance and Hector's ghost nevertheless have their proper gravitas and sombre hues against the brighter shades of Carthage. Colour is the great gift of the period instruments, revealing a wide range of sonorities, and creating a sense of freshness and discovery." (Gramophone)
"This lavish production, mounted at the Châtelet in Paris to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Berlioz's birth, must have been eagerly awaited by fans of the composer. Picture and sound quality are superb, with sensitive TV direction from Peter Maniura capturing faithfully the epic yet suitably modernist staging by veteran Yannis Kokkos, Greek-born but resident in Paris for some thirty years now. " (Musicweb International)
Gramophone Award: DVD (2005)
Susan Graham (Didon)
Anna Caterina Antonacci (Cassandra / Clio)
Gregory Kunde (Énée)
Ludovic Tézier (Chorèbe)
Laurent Naouri (Narbal / Le Grand Prêtre)
Monteverdi Choir; Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique; Sir John Eliot Gardiner
Company: Théâtre du Châtelet, Paris
Stage Director: Yannis Kokkos
Catalogue Number: OA0900D
Date of Performance: 2003
Running Time: 312 minutes
Sound: DTS Surround; LPCM Stereo
Aspect Ratio: 16:9 Anamorphic
Subtitles: EN, FR, DE, ES
Label: Opus Arte
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The Dido is a different matter. Needless to say anyone who witnessed Troyanos in that role will always think of her first. She had the rich full voice and regal acting ability for it. Eva Maria Westbroek takes awhile to warm up to. She does not have the lush mezzo of Troyanos but a stable, warm, lovely voice that did not tire ot become stressed in this long exposed role. In the begining she was the regal queen with a touch of wistfulness to her royal self. She gradually became more of a full women and a vulnerable one at that. And then she evolved into a full blown, completely, overwhelmingly women-in-love. And finally the desperate, spurned, betrayed lover. Ms. Westbroek did all of the stages with great authority and her voice held out to the end as she raved about Hannibal.
The Aeneas of Bryan Hymel (a replacement for Jonas Kaufmann) turned out to be a very good one. He has a stentorian vocal quality just right for the strong but not to bright leader of the fugative Trojans. He looks the part and I think he was genuinely saddened to leave the loving Dido at the end. I've seen him before as Robert in Meyerbeer's Robert Le Diable, another ROH production and his bright young tenor did him well also.
The supporting roles were all filled with excellent performers. Even my greatly admired Boris and Phillip II of yore, Robert Lloyd did a cameo as Priam. The Anna of Hanna Hipp was fine, the Iopas of Ji-Min Park sang the Ceres ballad beautifully and unforgettable is the soulfull ballad of Hylas the lonely sailor of Ed Lyon.
The music of Les Troyan is like no other opera. It is in fact a "numbers" opera but the lyric line is so deeply embedded in the continuous orchestration that it never ends until the whole piece is played. Unlike the symphonic operas of Wagner where the vocal line is immersed in harmonies and no melody is apparent, in Berlioz there is continuous melodies playing, They flit in and they flit out and may leave only a vague memory. There are melodies galore in Berlioz but few "tunes" as fill early and middle Verdi. There is nothing therefore to whistle after seeing a Berlioz opera. The closest thing to it is probably the glorious love duet of Act 4 "Nuit d'ivresse et d'extesse" based on lines from "The Merchant of Venice" scene for Jessica and Lorenzo. It is truly sublime music but I can't whistle it.
As poined out by a previous reviewer, the sets, costumes etc are what is now called a controlled "industrial steampunk" nothing is nice, nothing is pretty. It takes the story out of Virgil and shows you that the nature of people is now and has always been deceptive, treacherous, loving, suffering, maddening and caring. In other words we've always been the same and we always blame our faults on some god or other. Whatever! But the music is Grand!
I was asked why I prefer this Châtelet performance [Blu-ray] over the Met performance [DVD]. Stylistically the former simply sounds closer to the "French style" I know. Dramatically the Châtelet cast is also more engaging. Put it "over-simply": the Châtelet consists of mostly singing actors while the Met acting singers. This applies especially to Didon (Susan Graham vs Tatiana Troyanos) and Cassandre (Anna Caterina Antonacci vs Jessy Norman). The supporting cast in Châtelet in general outperforms their Met counterpart, sometimes by a lot. -- The only clear (and big!) advantage towards the Met performance is Domingo's Énée. With his superb acting and incomparable singing, he outshines Gregory Kunde by a country mile! (Perhaps only Jon Vickers in the first Davis's recording is comparable.) -- The Chorus also leans towards Châtelet's favor, with Monteverdi Choir augmented by Choeur du Théâtre du Châtelet sounding more focused and with more powerful punches when called for. The engineering in video and audio gives the clear edge to the Châtelet, likely due to the technological improvements in the ensuing two decades (1983-2003). However, the most deciding factor for me is John Eliot Gardiner's energetic and sensitive direction of the superb period-instrument Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique. When the period woodwind and brass open the piece without strings, they bring such a fresh soundscape that we know we are in for a wild ride. In the Royal Hunting Storm, for example, the original saxhorns create incredible plangency of tones that "it feels as if there is a singer behind each of these instruments". -- A thrilling sensation I have never experienced before. Perhaps this is an over-used phrase, but Berlioz, being a supreme orchestrator and author of the most famous book on orchestration Treatise on Instrumentation, really knew what instruments he wanted! (The saxhorns are replaced by other "modern" instruments in all other performances I know of.)
Two years ago, when I found out that this magnificent performance was available in the blu-ray format, I immediately upgraded my copy. The video and audio could hardly be faulted for the DVD edition, but in blu-ray format the image is crisper and the sound in DTS-HD 5.1 has added warmth and depth. (The sound from solo singers is less immediate in DTS-HD 5.1 than in 2-channel PCM. I wonder if that's because of usage of hidden "body microphones" or lack of?)
This is a poignant and imaginative performance of romantic exuberance and classic restraint. My top recommendation.
(*) Three strongest champions of Hector Berlioz's music are Charles Munch,Colin Davis and John Eliot Gardiner, at far as the conductors are concerned, and I have almost all Berlioz recordings from the first two conductors.
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