Magazine article The Spectator

Opera Trojan Triumph

Magazine article The Spectator

Opera Trojan Triumph

Article excerpt

Les Troyens Live from the Met Opera has naturally made no start at all in 2013 in the UK, the month surrounding Christmas being a culture-free zone.

By contrast the New York Met has entered the new year with a thrilling production, revived from 2003, of Berlioz's Les Troyens, a resounding success in all major respects except one. Lovers of this great masterpiece usually have a chance to see it about once a decade, but only a few months ago it was staged by the Royal Opera in a production that had a muted response.

Les Troyens is one of those works which either shakes you to the core or leaves you mildly, or even very bored. It aims at the comprehensive vision of great classical epics, indulges a leisureliness of narrative, and has a low-life scene of regrettable banality, but which at least is brief (the two Trojan sentries chatting about the availability of Carthaginian girls). Most importantly, it proposes a concept of nobility that is truly classic and is incarnated in the opera's two heroines, both of whom, by virtue of their capacity for unillusioned proclamation or acceptance of the truth, go to their deaths:

the first, Cassandra, in ecstasy, the second, Dido, in agony, not only the physical agony of stabbing herself but also the appalled recognition that, though she may be temporarily avenged by Hannibal, Rome, founded by her betrayer Aeneas, will be eternal.

Berlioz does nothing to entice the spectator and listener at the opening. Manic chattering winds, bottom-light, evoke the idiot frivolity of the Trojans, celebrating the Greeks' retreat without a thought that they might have sinister motives. Berlioz is only concerned to provide the ideal setting for Cassandra to come forward and pronounce Troy's doom, which she does in the grandest possible manner, knowing that she will be ignored. She must be instantly imposing, and unfortunately Deborah Voigt wasn't.

Her voice is now hard and pinched, and she can't colour it, so the alternations between impassioned warnings, tender laments at the thought of the doom that awaits her beloved Coroebus, visions of ruin, go for nothing. In close-up it is impossible not to notice that Voigt seems to be smiling in the most inappropriate places.

The contrast between her acute limitations and the warmth and variety of tone that Dwayne Croft - looking magnificent and singing wonderfully, as Coroebus, not a grateful role - was cruel. Still, the momentum of the music in the flawless opening act was tremendous, thanks to Fabio Luisi, conducting this as he conducts almost everything, not with ideal insight but with a confident grasp of idiom and pace. …

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