Berlioz’ Les Troyens is opera on a grand scale. Only a really big company like the Met could possibly afford to stage it. Yesterday’s performance used a chorus of 110, a larger orchestra, at least twelve soloists and a bunch of dancers. It also lasted 5 1/2 hours including the intervals. Was it worth it? For the most part I’d say yes.
Francesca Zambello’s production is dramatically straightforward and the sets are restrained and fit for purpose. There are some interesting design elements in the first two acts where much of the time the stage is framed by a sort of lattice of spears. Costumes are simple in the extreme. The Greeks wear generic “ancient world” military outfits (more Roman than Greek ironically). The Trojans wear non descript clothes in a colour scheme that we once had a sofa in; dull purples and greys and oranges. The happy Carthaginians mostly wear white. The visual interest mostly comes from the dance elements. The choreography, by Doug Varone, is varied and for the most part interesting; though I doubt that the best choreographer in the world could retain interest during the interminable dance scenes in Act 4. It does have its curious moments. There’s a mass outbreak of dwarf tossing in Act 1 for example but for the most part I enjoyed it. One thing the Met does well is use good dancers. In a work like this it’s critical and here they were good. The two soloists were particularly fine.
What about the music making? It was good. The chorus, who have a huge role, were excellent. The principal soloists were fine too. I’ve heard Susan Graham sing Didon before and she’s the goods. Deb Voight’s Cassandre was well sung and very different from Anna Caterina Antonacci who is my reference point. Voight’s Cassandre is very mush a woman on the edge. It’s easy to see why the Trojans think she’s flipped her lid. That said, she doesn’t have the intensity of Antonacci. It’s a different, but I think valid, interpretation. Brian Hymel, singing Énée, was the big surprise for me. He’s grown up. When I last saw him in Carmen a couple of years ago I wrote “He is very much a lyric rather than a dramatic tenor”. Not any more. There’s a Siegfried in the making here. Indeed so helden was his voice that some of the beauty of the Act 4 love duet went AWOL as the voices didn’t really blend (of course that might have something to do with how it was miked). He deservedly got a huge ovation. There were solid contributions from a string of Met stalwarts in the back up roles; notably Dwayne Croft and Kwangchul Youn. Excellent work too from the orchestra under Fabio Luisi. They managed to sound grand and French at the same time without becoming too strident in the brass.
Barbara Willis-Sweete had control of the cameras and she was the ideal choice for this work. Of all the Met’s video directors she is the one most willing to show a wide picture of the action. I thought her choice of shots was generally very good. There was a bit of “Wimbledon” in the filming of a couple of the duets and she did get a bit ADD during the Act 4 ballets. I’m not surprised at the urge to jazz this up as they were very long but close ups just don’t work for ensemble dance numbers. Overall though, one of the better efforts by a video director at the Met. My local cinema seems to have got the message on sound. Volume levels yesterday were reasonable and the result pleasingly musical.
I guess the only way I’m ever likely to see this work is on video or in the cinema so I’m glad that this was such a successful effort all round.