BERLIOZ Les Troyens • James Levine, cond; Jessye Norman (Cassandra); Tatiana Troyanos (Dido); Jocelyne Taillon (Anna); Plácido Domingo (Enée); Paul Plishka (Narbal); Douglas Ahlstedt (Iopas); Metropolitan Op Ballet, O & ChRead more• DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 000916609 (2 DVDs: 250:00)
This performance was filmed at the Met October 8, 1983—Troyanos was 45 that year, Domingo turned 42, and both were resplendent, visually and vocally. Norman hadn’t yet hit 40. Despite overupholstered costuming, occasionally dorky stage business, and clever staging often leaving Berlioz’s mise-en-scène in the lurch, the upshot, winged by sheer star power, is hugely whelming and deeply moving in its steep careen from the fate of peoples, conveyed by magnificent choral work, to the intimate lives of those held in its grip. Norman is a superbly powerful Cassandra, though keenly rivaled and marginally overtopped in lithe voltage by Anna Caterina Antonacci for Sir John Eliot Gardiner (BBC Opus Arte 900 D, Fanfare 28:4), a live 2003 performance from the Paris Opéra, with Susan Graham as Dido and Gregory Kunde as Aeneas—the only considerable DVD alternative to the present issue. The Met production at least made gestures toward Berlioz’s antique setting, where the Opéra’s strutted a postmodern conceit with refugees in trench coats and Army/Navy outfits. Troyanos and Domingo easily overtop the lightweight Graham and Kunde, vocally and histrionically. When Kunde’s Aeneas takes his farewell, for instance, he expresses his grief at leaving Carthage with the complacency of an insurance huckster explaining why the policy won’t pay, while Graham embarrassingly recalls more the hysteric on a sitcom than a Queen. With Troyanos and Domingo, on the other hand, we have compelling fireworks at every step. Both productions cast the subsidiary roles strongly, with—for Levine—Paul Plishka’s Narbal, Douglas Ahlstedt’s Iopas, and Claudia Catania’s Ascanius as notable standouts.
While nearly everything, large and small, comes off wonderfully, one objects to the would-be-clever traducement of the Trojan March. Berlioz envisioned a triumphal procession coming from a distance, crossing the stage as a noise from inside the horse causes momentary panic and wending on out of sight. Here, as a Calder-like sculpture hovers above the stage, we hear distant brass fanfares; eventually, the chorus comes on and the harp-accompanied episode moves upfront, with the stunning moment of the dropped weapon inside the horse, as the brass remains immovably remote—an oddly bifurcated effect blunting the score’s signature peak. Gardiner gives the March full strength, bringing the brass onstage in costume. Chez Levine, Mercury’s summons at the end of Aeneas and Dido’s love duet could—and should—have had more éclat. And so on. The vastness of Les Troyens tempts producers—fortunately, the Met production kept such mischief to a minimum.
The obverse of star power is the audience’s determination to applaud every number. As Dido comes to the end of “Adieu, fière cite,” for instance, Levine pauses so that she can endure nearly a minute of clapping, barking, and howls before getting on with arrangements for her suicide. This is wrenching.
In 1983 we were not yet presented with the “problem” of the finale. Berlioz’s sketches for an alternative ending—with an appearance by Clio, the muse of history—fleshed out and orchestrated by the obliging Hugh Macdonald provided an interesting but unsatisfactory conclusion to Gardner’s tilt. Here, the standard conclusion is given.
This Met performance was once available on a single disc from Pioneer Classics (11673)—the “bonus” features are mainly snippets from other DGG productions, that is, advertising, and hardly justify spreading the opera over two DVDs. Sound, while generally balanced and walloping, can be variable, with some lines obscured when performers move away from the microphones. The collector will shun Herbert Wernicke’s Salzburg Festival 2000 production (Arthaus 100 351, two DVDs), with Deborah Polaski uptight as both Cassandra and Dido, but may well want the Gardiner as a supplement. Meanwhile, in the DVD sweeps, this is the Troyens of choice.
FANFARE: Adrian Corleonis
STEREO: PCM / SURROUND: Dolby Digital 5.1 & DTS 5.1
Picture Format: 4:3
A production of Metropolitan Opera Association, Inc.
Les troyensby Hector Berlioz Performer:
Placido Domingo (Tenor),
Tatiana Troyanos (Mezzo Soprano),
Allan Monk (Baritone),
Jessye Norman (Soprano),
Paul Plishka (Bass)
Metropolitan Opera Chorus,
Metropolitan Opera Orchestra
Period: Romantic Written: 1856-1858; France Date of Recording: 1983
Average Customer Review: ( 2 Customer Reviews )
Question for Dr ShoemanMarch 28, 2013By J. DeLong (Quicksburg, VA)See All My Reviews"I saw the Met HD broadcast a couple of months ago, and was stunned by the power of the opera. The performance I saw was the last of the season -- had there been another, I would certainly have been on a train to NYC and paid whatever the scalpers asked. That said, I was not totally satisfied with the minimalist staging, though I thought they did a fine job at making the chorus part of the stage set (as in the sea monster scene). So how would you rate this DVD versus the new version? I have also been informed that the Royal Opera is going to release a DVD of its production sometime this year."Report Abuse
The most magnificent of grand operas!January 6, 2013By Dr. Stephen Schoeman (Westfield, NJ)See All My Reviews"Having been privileged to see Les Troyens at the Metropolitan Opera three times during the 2012-1013 season, I can say that Les Troyens is the most magnificent of grand operas. Do not walk to purchase a copy of this performance. Run! For sheer spectacle no opera I know, and I have seen many, compares. Not even Aida with its famous triumphal march scene! But Les Troyens is more than just spectacle. It is brilliant musical composition with a variety of musical textures the envy of the opera and classical world. There is not a dull or boring moment in it. There are the most plaintively beautiful arias and duets interspersed with the grandest of music. The opera may be long in time but time passes quickly because of the quality and variety of the music which is always interesting to say the least and because of the excellent story line the words for which were written by none other than Berlioz himself. Here is an opera composer who knew instrumentation. He wrote the Treatise on Instrumentation. He was as well one of the greatest composers of the day. He was very taken with Beethoven. Berlioz was a seminal figure in music, influencing such other giants as Rimsky-Korsakov and Murrorsgsky and Meyerbeer. Listen closely and you would think you are hearing Richard Strauss and Richard Wagner. Liszt greatly admired Berlioz's music. Berlioz was very progressive for his time. Les Troyens is one of the glories of Western civilization. Listen to it and you will never see opera in the same light again. so, once again, do not walk but run to purchase from ArchivMusic this recording of Les Troyens!"Report Abuse