Met Opera’s Les Troyens is superb

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DIRECTOR: Francesco Zambello

CONDUCTOR: Fabio Luisi

CAST: Deborah Voigt, Marcello Giordani, Dwayne Croft, Susan Graham, Kwangchul Youn

SET DESIGNER: Maria Bjornson

COSTUMES: Anita Yavich

LIGHTING: James F Ingalls

RUNNING TIME: 330 minutes

RATING: *****

Berlioz’s greatest achievement, his opera Les Troyens (The Trojans), is far removed from grand opera. It is epic opera bursting at the seams. This is fully demonstrated in this, the Met Opera’s seventh production live in HD of the season. It’s predominantly stupendous, but in certain scenes the level of intimate communication between the main protagonists is equally surprising.

For this five-act opera the composer wrote his own libretto. It is based upon a scenario furnished by Liszt’s friend Princess Caroline Sayn-Wittgenstein. It contains words inspired by Virgil, whom Berlioz loved second only to Shakespeare.

Both of them contributed to the written texts – Virgil to the narrative of the love of Dido for Aeneas, as described in the first, second and fourth books of The Aeneid, and Shakespeare to the interpolation between Jessica and Lorenzo from The Merchant of Venice. This provides words for the great love duet between Dido and Aeneas in Act IV.

Musically, Les Troyens reflects the composer’s yearning for classicism. In design and form Gluck, whom he admired, was his mentor. But Berlioz brought his own brand of orchestration and his gigantic vision. The enlarged chorus is not only the main character, but fills the title role to symbolise the course of history. We also have lots of ballet, especially in Act IV, because it was part and parcel of Grand-Opéra. However, these sequences also make narrative sense.

With a predominantly American cast, this second staging of a Met Trojans, first seen in 2003, is a showcase for this company’s strength on all levels. This opera in two parts – I, The capture of Troy, and II, The Trojans in Carthage – is given an arresting, brilliantly crafted performance. Purists may question the absence of Francophone singers, but opera being such an international phenomenon, can one really still expect this?

Deborah Voigt’s Cassandra sounded impassioned, while suggesting her pessimistic character by going to her death with tragic dignity. Susan Graham was even more inspiring as the queenly, soft and sensual Dido. Among her magnificent solo and ensemble work, her duo with Aeneas, Nuit d’ivresse et d’extase infinite (O sweet night, night of ecstacy unending), leading to the incomparable love duet Par une telle nuit (In such a night as this).

This was pure vocal magic.

In the role of Aeneas, Marcello Giordani, who just turned 50, was vocally on an even keel – not particularly heroic all the time, but using his voice with skill and feeling, while the reflective passages are sung with the right deep, sad timbre.

The young American baritone Dwayne Croft as Coroebus sings with a bright firmness while giving subtle profile to the texts. All the singers in the slightly more minor roles are ideally cast.

In the combination of Francesco Zambello’s stage directing and Fabio Luisi’s conducting from the pit we experience a concentrated production. Its epic logic is held tightly together.

Nearly a once-in-a-lifetime kind of event.

• Screening at all Cinema Nouveau and selected Ster-Kinekor theatres.

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