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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So it's already been mentioned this is an update to around the composer's time, a sort of Dali-esque re-imagining of the Crimean war. OK ... I usually dislike updated settings. But Berlioz himself was so over the top on everything he did, and this is so wild, maybe he would have actually approved. And I do sorta have a soft spot for steam-punk :)
Now, as much as I enjoyed the San Francisco production, and this is more or less that same production ... yet it has to be admitted, this Blu-Ray from Royal Opera has even more to enjoy. It was the San Francisco production that was very slightly watered down. I will give two particulars.
First, the scene where the Ghost of Hector comes to visit Enee. In San Francisco, the ghost does not look much like a ghost. He just looks like a dude in battle uniform, ambling out on-stage. He does look all beat up--his face is black and blue. But that could have been from a bar-room brawl. He doesn't look dead.
In this video, he is most definitely a corpse. He's laying face-down on the floor and slowly drags himself out. His ashen face is horribly slashed, and his cheek never leaves the floor, even while singing. He is assurably dead. It's a better portrayal.
Second is the fire-breathing Trojan horse. Only in the video does he snort fire. On the San Francisco stage, there was no fire-breathing. Rather they had the horse's head fitted out like a campstove with little gas burners which were turned on during the climactic scene. It is somewhat visually striking, but in the video it is SPECTACULAR--two huge jets of flame-throwers shooting from his nostrils.
Of course, a fire-breathing horse was not required by Berlioz, but so what? Berlioz didn't specify campstove jets either. If you want only what Berlioz had, you wouldn't be watching this anyway. But once you enter the world of steam-punk, go first class or stay home!
All that said, it's still playing in San Francisco several more nights, and I could easily recommend it (although maybe twice is enough for me, not three times :-)
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!
Antonacci (why do not we have her at the Met? when will they discover her?), who really is mozzafiato (Italian for suspension of your breath). But the singers in the Carthage episode are just as good, and in both halves, the regie is OK, and the horse, the Trojan horse, is really beautiful, mechanically contrived, and Carthage resembles ....Carthage, a busy place, where people are busy making money. Both pieces together constitute a bonus, and I recommend it highly.