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Monday, December 10, 2012

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Les Troyens

The Met brings back Berlioz' classical epic.
by Paul Pelkonen
The Trojan Horse in Act I of Les Troyens in the Met's production. That's Deborah Voigt at the left.
Photo by Marty Sohl © 2003 The Metropolitan Opera.
A snarky opera commentator might call this revival The Return of the Horse. The Met brings back Francesca Zambello's stunning production of Hector Berlioz' longest opera, a sweeping adaptation of Virgil's Aeneid. And yes it's over five hours long.

When it premiered in 1858, Berlioz' five-act tragédie-lyrique was split into two halves La prise de Troi ("The Sack of Troy") and Les Troyens a Carthage. ("The Trojans at Carthage.") The Theatre-Lyrique (now the Chatelet) in Paris opted to perform the second half, with heavy cuts. La Prise remained unperformed until 1890. The complete opera had to wait until 1921. The Met plays the whole five acts. The entire show clocks in at about five-and-a-half hours, depending on the conductor--in this case Met Principal Conductor Fabio Luisi.

Troyens is Berlioz' most ambitious work, using repeated melodies and themes to retell the story of Enee (Aeneas), his escape from the burning city of Troy. The second half follows the Trojans across the Mediterranean and recounts Enee's his disastrous love affair with Didon, (Dido) the Queen of Carthage.  Marcello Giordani armors up as Enee. Deborah Voigt takes off her Valkyrie wings to utter warnings as Cassandra. Susan Graham sings Didon, a role created in this production by the late Lorraine Hunt Lieberson. Fabio Luisi conducts.

Les Troyens opens December 13. Please note, start time for (most) evening performances is 6pm.

Recording Recommendations:
London Symphony Orchestra cond. Sir Coln Davis (Philips/London, (1969)
Enée: Jon Vickers
Cassandre: Berit Lindholm
Didon: Josephine Veasey
For many years, this was the only readily available recording of Troyens. This is the first of Sir Colin's two recordings of the opera, and although it has minor cuts, it set a high standard for performances of this opera. It's available in a stand-alone slipcase and in a bargain box of Berlioz orchestral music and operas, all conducted by Sir Colin.

Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus cond. James Levine (Metropolitan Opera, 2010, recorded 2003)
Enée: Ben Heppner
Cassandre: Deborah Voigt
Didon: Lorraine Hunt Lieberson
This is a CD issue of a complete live performance from the Met in 2003. It preserves the moving performance of Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, the mezzo-soprano acclaimed for bringing on the heartbreak as Didon. It also features Deborah Voigt's power-house performance as Cassandre. Ben Heppner is a strong Aeneas. James Levine conducts a slow, majestic note-complete reading of the score.

Return to the Superconductor 2012-2013 Metropolitan Opera Season Preview.

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