Magazine article The Spectator

Experience of a Lifetime

Magazine article The Spectator

Experience of a Lifetime

Article excerpt

The first week of the Edinburgh Festival came to a close with a performance of Les Troyens ta Carthage of such intensity that I was relieved to be leaving after it, if only for a couple of days. It has turned out, however, to be one of those experiences which refuses to make way for others. First it cost me a night's sleep, then it haunted me during the subsequent week. Above all it was on account of Lorraine Hunt Lieberson's passionate, utterly exposed Didon, which raised the occasion to a different level even from what we had at the Barbican last year.

In the opening act she seemed to me a little restrained, lacking to a small extent the regal presence needed to animate the least impressive pages of the score - and I have to repeat that I think it an artistic crime to separate the two parts of Les Troyens in this manner, with six days in between to make things worse. Act III, the meeting of the Carthaginian queen and her people, can come off if it provides a contrast both with the act that precedes it and the ones that follow it. By itself it is limp, seeming all too clearly to be a sop to Parisian tastes. It felt to me as if Hunt was uninspired by it, and that it was only when Enee sung his long-awaited `Chere Didon!' that she bloomed.

From then on the evening was one of almost unbearable beauty and of the emotional candour that Berlioz uniquely commanded. Didon's slide into love, the curious but affecting duet - who but Berlioz would make a love scene into, or out of, a rondo? - and all that follows, were bound, thanks to the inspiration of Donald Runnicles's conducting, into a whole of devastating power. It is, of course, the last half hour, Didon's torment and immolation, that is so astonishingly original and inimitable. Over and over again she conquers her desperate feelings of love and detestation, only to collapse once more into incoherent sobs and cries. Berlioz builds into the music the naked betrayal of her anger and her suffering, then rewards her with calm and second sight, only finally to have her expire with full awareness of how unavenged her destiny will be. Has any other artist, in any form, ever been so honest? And certainly no performer, in my experience, has realised every facet of this terrible drama so completely as Hunt. This ranks as one of the experiences of a lifetime.

Three evenings later, again at the Usher Hall, we had a concert performance of Rossini's Armida, though Cecilia Gasdia in concert is considerably more flamboyant than many singers on stage. …

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