• Opera in-Depth - Les Troyens - Discography

    There is a complete Les Troyens on YouTube, high def image, good sound, and it is Sir John Eliot Gardiner's spectacular performance at the Châtelet in Paris (unfortunately fragmented in several small clips):



    38 recordings of Les Troyens by Hector Berlioz, up to 2007

    Many of these recordings are not complete. We need to get down to number 16 to have the first complete performance of Les Troyens ever (actually, it was recorded a little later). It's the one by Sir Colin Davis at Covent Garden in 1969.


    (This "Discography" was generated by CLOR for THE COMPILER)

    1 1947(RA) - Beecham Thomas - Royal Philharmonic Orchestra*
    2 1950(LE) - Westrup Jack A. - Oxford University Orchestra*
    3 1952(RE) - Otterloo Willem van - Radio Filharmonisch Orkest*
    4 1952(STU) - Scherchen Hermann - Orchestre des Concerts du Conservatoire de Paris*
    5 1957(LI) - Kubelik Rafael - Covent Garden*
    6 1958(LE) - Sandberg Herbert - Royal Swedish Opera*
    7 1958(LI) - Kubelik Rafael - Covent Garden*
    8 1959/60(LI) - Lawrence Robert - American Opera Society*
    9 1960(LI) - Kubelik Rafael - Teatro alla Scala*
    10 1960(LI) - Pritchard John - Covent Garden*
    11 1961(RA) - Müller-Kray Hans - Sinfonieorchester des Süddeutschen Rundfunks Stuttgart*
    12 1964(LE) - Sébastian Georges - Teatro Colón (Buenos Aires)*
    13 1965(SE) - Prêtre Georges - L'Opéra de Paris*
    14 1966(LE) - Davis Colin - New Philharmonia Orchestra*
    15 1968(SE) - Gibson Alexander - London Symphony Orchestra*
    16 1969(LI) - Davis Colin - Covent Garden*
    17 1969(LI) - Prêtre Georges - RAI Roma*
    18 1969(STU) - Davis Colin - Covent Garden*
    19 1972(LCE) - Davis Colin - Covent Garden*
    20 1972(LI) - Caldwell Sarah - The Opera Company of Boston*
    21 1974(LI) - Kubelik Rafael - Metropolitan Opera*
    22 1976(LI) - Albrecht Gerd - Wiener Staatsoper*
    23 1977(LI) - Levine James - Cincinnati Opera*
    24 1980(LI) - Baudo Serge - Orchestre de Lyon**
    25 1982(LE) - Rozhdestvensky Gennady - BBC Symphony Orchestra*
    26 1983(LC) - Levine James - Metropolitan Opera**
    27 1984(LI) - Levine James - Metropolitan Opera*
    28 1985(LI) - Divall Richard - Melbourne Symphony Orchestra*
    29 1990(LI) - Chung Myung-Whun - L'Opéra National de Paris*
    30 1993(STU) - Dutoit Charles - Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal*
    31 1996(LI) - Davis Colin - Teatro alla Scala*
    32 1997(Act4;LE) - Villaume Emmanuel - Teatro La Fenice di Venezia*
    33 2000(LC) - Davis Colin - London Symphony Orchestra*
    34 2000(LI) - Cambreling Sylvain - Orchestre de Paris**
    35 2003(LC) - Gardiner John Eliot - Orchestre Revolutionaire et Romantique**
    36 2003(LI) - Davis Colin - London Symphony Orchestra*
    37 2003(LI) - Levine James - Metropolitan Opera*
    38 2007(LI) - Nelson John - L'Orchestre de la Suisse Romande*
    *AUDIO ---- **VIDEO ---- ***AUDIO & VIDEO

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    CHOICE CDs:

    Most critics agree that two best recordings on CD are the two conducted by Sir Colin Davis.



    This is beautifully conducted and sang by all principals, in spite of the fact that it is an all English-speaking cast, and some have faulted this recording for a lack of Frenchness. In addition to being very good, it is historically important because it was the first time ever that Les Troyens was performed complete, with no cuts. This studio recording was done shortly after the Covent Garden inaugural performance.

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    Sir Colin Davis recorded Les Troyens for the second time, 32 years after his first one!
    A highlight of this recording is the presence of Ben Heppner as Énée, a true Heldentenor, and on top of it he has excellent articulation of the French words. Michelle De Young as Didon and Petra Land as Cassandra are also very good. Davis seems more dynamic here than in his first one. This package includes the full French libretto with English translation.

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    This recording by Dutoit has the excellent Françoise Pollet but the conducting is faulted by some critics as too mechanical. Deborah Voigt is in it.

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    This recording is highly praised for the trio of singers, considered to be three of the finest in the post-war era: Richard Cassily (Énée), Regina Resnik (Didon) and Eleanor Steber (Cassandra). However, buyer beware: it is heavily cut.

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    This is an abridged version:



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    VIDEO (DVD, Blu-ray)

    There are only four commercial versions.



    This version was filmed live at the Met in 83. Both Troyanos and Domingo were in their prime (respectively at ages 45 and 42) and they sang very well. An even younger Norman (below 40) was spectacular as a powerful Cassandra. Traditional staging, with heavy costumes. Troyanos and Domingo are also more compelling actors than their counterparts in the Gardiner DVD below. There are downsides, though, such as a very underwhelming Trojan March in terms of staging and even in terms of orchestral playing. Lots of public applause are disruptive, between scenes. Sound quality is uneven with some lines getting muddled when the singers walk away from microphones. The ending is the traditional one, without Clio, unlike below. A very good DVD and first choice for those who like traditional stagings, but I personally prefer Sir Gardiner's version in its much more modern treatment and superior technology.

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    Like I said, this one is available in full on YouTube, but I'd recommend its purchase, not only for the sake of supporting the art form instead of watching this for free on YouTube, but also thanks to the superb technical aspects of this blu-ray's sound and image.

    This is a performance that is mostly flawless in terms of orchestra, conducting, most singers, and chorus. The acting is rather good, especially Antonacci's and many of the comprimario roles, less good from Graham and Kunde, who is also the weak link in terms of singing, and is overpowered by his female peers.

    I like the staging very much, with the mirrors. It is clever and interesting. There are several successful ways of treating various scenes in my opinion - this is an opera that I love, and I wasn't disappointed with the solutions that they found as is often the case when you love a work too much .

    The flow of the performance is nice, with the chorus entering and leaving and moving on stage very well and the distribution of performers on the stage admirably well done, given that Les Troyens requires a particularly large number of people and stage directing can easily get overwhelmed with a too-crowded stage, which didn't happen here.

    The ballets are beautiful, with the visually interesting flying white birds.



    I generally like minimalistic stagings and this one is very tasteful, with nice colors and good lighting. The filming/editing is efficient and unobtrusive.

    Like I said, sound quality in this blu-ray disc is excellent, and the HD images are crystalline.

    The bonuses are interesting and informative, with extended and deep interviews with the main creators of the performance.

    In summary, when you combine all these assets - most importantly and beginnig with a very well conducted opera with excellent singing - you get a top 5 product, highly recommended, and my choice for Les Troyens on DVD/Blu-ray.

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    I haven't seen this DVD but it is generally considered by critics as weak, with Deborah Polaski who does both Cassandra and Dido being described as "uptight."

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    This is of course my second favorite opera, after the Ring. And this is a controversial production. I own and love the Gardiner/Chatelet version. This is the Gergiev/Valencia/La Fura dels Baus version.

    First impact: it's 1080p unlike most opera blu-rays which are 1080i. And yes, it makes a difference. Spectacularly sharp image! DTS-HD Master audio. Technically speaking, this product from Unitel Classica is perfect, with substantial and complete liner notes, bonus features, documentary, trailers, fabulous sound balance, subtitles in several languages including original French. Running time for the opera, a round 240 minutes.

    Opening chorus and orchestra: very energetic. It looks like this will be a good performance, musically. Cassandre makes her entrance. Elisabete Matos is old for the role and her voice falters, but she does have stage presence and dignity. So far I like this thing!

    Chorèbe comes in, dressed in a sort of ridiculous looking Star Trooper uniform - and he's too fat for it. He sings well (Gabriele Viviani). Actually, very well. Cassandre is on a wheelchair (why?) and Matos is really mismatched when compared in age to young Viviani - whose voice is also a lot more potent than hers. Her acting though is better than his.

    The Trojan horse is high-tech, full of computer screens - it's a Trojan Horse, get it? (Computer virus). The images projected on a screen backstage are a lot more low tech which doesn't make for a beautiful effect in my opinion. So, we're into it for only 20 minutes and there's a lot of highs and lows already.

    End of the Cassandre/Chorèbe duo - well sung but with distracting visuals and poor acting. In direct comparison, I like better the same scene in the Gardiner version, with the fabulous Antonacci. But this is not bad and I'm enjoying it. We'll see how this unfolds.

    Dieux Protecteurs, the next chorus number, is nothing short of spectacular, both from the stage and from the pit.

    On the other hand, the Combat de Ceste is done with boxers on a ring. Not cool.

    The highs and lows pattern continues, because this rather silly scene is followed by a very beautiful scene for the pantomime Andromaque et son fils.

    The scene with the two serpents devouring Lacoon is utterly ridiculous and visually unpleasant. Again, it distracts from the tragic chorus music.

    Act I finale, the Marche Troyenne, is again spectacular. By now I'm coming to expect one good scene, one bad scene, and so forth.

    I'd give a 7 out of 10 to act I. Overall, inferior to Gardiner's.

    Act II is starting now.

    Énée seems to be sung by a weak link - Lance Ryan. Darn, this may ruin the whole thing!
    Very impressive scene with Hector's shadow, well sung by Yuri Vorobiov, and visually striking.

    Now the second tableau, the women. It starts very well with the beautiful choir Puissante Cybèle. All in red lighting. Alma's Boob-O-Meter registers that the dancers are topless - but they are rather unnecessary and again, distracting. This production doesn't seem to have a sense of theatrical propriety.

    The scene when Cassandre is inviting her peers to kill themselves definitely lacks theatrical impact. Acting is week. Singing is fine. Visuals are fine. But something is missing. The very end of the scene is interesting, with the blood. But overall, fail.

    Still, I give to second act a higher note than the first - 8 out of 10. Gardiner remains ahead.
    This is the end of La Prise de Troie. Pause for snack. Next, Les Troyens à Carthage (acts III, IV, and V).

    Oh well, this starts very badly. Here the 1080p image works against this product. The cover picture does seem interesting, with the singers inside this spaceship/particle accelerator thingie. But when this scenario actually comes up on stage, it looks incredibly fake and cheap, because the high-def image allows us to see that it's all made of inflated plastic tubes.

    Didon (Daniela Barcellona) makes her entrance hanging from wires, in a rather ridiculous costume (her hairdo makes her look like a huge Minnie Mouse), and sings only reasonably, nothing great (I hope she'll warm up later). Something tells me that this production will derail rapidly; I'm starting to like it a lot less.

    I swear that I just saw a Klingon in the chorus.

    OK, folks, the very beautiful scenes in the Gardiner blu-ray when we get to the parade of laborers (constructeurs, matelots, laboureurs) here instead are simply pathetic. I've rarely seen something this unappealing. Terrible. I'll be giving this act a 3 out of 10 if this doesn't improve.

    Another problem is that in spite of all the high-tech scenarios, this production is rather static. These huge tubes make the chorus look sort of small and lost, down there. We're far from the fluidity and the movement of the Gardiner production, with the chorus coming in and out with movements amplified by the mirrors. Instead, what we have here is the same problem with Lepage's Ring: this particle accelerator / space age thingie is just too big and makes the stage look crowded.

    The female leads are unattractive. One wonders why in the hell would Énée fall in love with this Didon. Her sister Anna is played by an even less attractive woman (Zlata Bulicheva - who does sing reasonably well).

    In a trouser role, Oksana Shilova does very well as Ascagne, with a beautiful voice and nice looks.

    Lance Ryan has a terrible accent in French. He sounds like a hillbilly. The weak acting continues.

    Yep. Act III doesn't get any better than a 3 out of 10.

    OK, this thing is surprising, the highs and lows continue. After the dreadful act 3, act 4 opens very well, with, for the first time, truly beautiful visuals, great orchestral playing, imaginative ballet for the Chasse Royale et Orage pantomime (with the dancers from the Mariinsky that Gergiev imported with him - they are gorgeous, and topless). Next, the high level continues with the first truly great singer in this production delivering a very beautiful moment - Stephen Milling as Nardal. By now they have removed the big particle accelerator and the stage looks, for a change, spacious and sleek. So far, act 4 is getting from me a 10 out of 10.

    OK. Weird. For the ballets Pas des almées, Danse des Esclaves, and Pas d'Esclaves Nubiennes, we get instead a sort of fashion show with people in strange space-age clothes with erect penises and people on leashes like dogs. Okaaaaay... We're getting a little Eurotrashy. Fortunately the gorgeous Russian ballerinas are back, this time in black bikinis. Then we get a real ballet with two male dancers who do well. In spite of the Eurotrash, I actually like these scenes. Two female dancers now. Very cute (especially the brunette) and talented.
    The Nubian slaves scene is very beautiful as well, with nice choreography. The orchestra does a very good job throughout these ballet scenes, rendering beautifully Berlioz's thrilling music.

    Iopas' song Ô Blonde Cérès is well performed by Eric Cutler. The fourth act continues to be *very* satisfactory. If they deliver a good Nuit d'Ivresse at the end of it, it will boost significantly my appreciation of this production. We'll see (it's the make it or break it moment).

    So far so good. Act IV continues to deliver beautiful images, good singing, and good orchestral playing. The quintet is very successful.

    The septet however suffers from Lance Ryan's weak singing and dreadful accent. When he is drowned by the other six singers, things improve. Again for the first time, the use of the computer screens is helpful rather than distracting, with beautiful effects.

    OK, Nuit d'Ivresse now. Pretty good. Even Lance Ryan does better than expected. Daniela Barcellona sings beautifully. The scene is very atmospheric with the two singers being slowly raised in a strange contraption until they get into a kind of sphere (the cave, I suppose). Mercure passes by inside a communications satellite, to deliver his line Italie, Italie, Italie.

    I give to act IV 9.5 out of 10, knocking half a point down due to Lance Ryan's singing. But definitely this time the production delivered the magic of Berlioz's music and the extreme beauty of this opera. I'd say that act IV justifies the purchase of this blu-ray in spite of the extremely uneven performance (as evidenced by my scores of 7, 8, 3, and 9.5 for the first four acts).

    If in act V they are able to maintain this level of quality this thing will be rescued, but given what I've seen so far, I'm half expecting that they'll not do well in act V, to continue the up and down trend.

    It opens beautifully, though, with a space shuttle, Hylas as an astronaut, and Earth in the background. Hylas is sung by Dmitri Voropaev, and he does a decent job with Vallon sonore (another highlight of this opera) but could have been better.

    Panthée is Giorgio Giuseppini, a good singer who delivers in his short role, singing Préparez tout. The Par Bacchus duo however is a letdown, a bit too comic for the situation, and with weak singers (Yuri Vorobiov, Vincent Pavesi). Oh well, in an opera with so many characters, one can't expect too much of these two minor roles.

    Next we have Lance Ryan murdering the beautiful aria Inutiles Regrets... Ah! Quand viendra l'instant. Pity.

    The scene of the four shadows (Cassandre, Priam, Chorèbe, Hector) is interesting.

    The dramatic duo between Didon and Énée, however, is again spoiled by Ryan's appalling singing. This scene is fortunately the last one featuring Énée, so I'm looking forward to the last two scenes of the opera, which are thankfully Lance Ryan-free. The Trojans depart, in a spaceship, headed to outer space.

    I give to the first scene of act V a 7.5.

    Second scene - starts beautifully with a well-sung duet between Didon and Anna. The usual problem with updated versions happens again: the libretto says that the Trojans are gone, their ships are still visible at sea. However, the images show spaceships traveling in space.

    Barcellona sings very well the rage scene, but her acting remains subpar. Je vais mourir is beautiful and the imagery is fine. We get to Adieu, fière cité. Good, too.

    The whole scene is quite effective and gets 8.5.

    So far, act V has an average of 8. We are now in the very last scene. Very stylish, with the laptops making a beautiful effect, all in bluish lighting, turning red when the queen stabs herself. There is no last line "Carthage is over, now Rome." Pity. 8 again. So the average for act V remains 8.

    7, 8, 3, 9.5, 8.

    Final average, 7.1

    Pros:

    1080p blu ray with spectacular image and sound
    Gergiev and the Orquestra de La Comunitat Valenciana play beautifully
    Some moments of sublime visual beauty (especially in Act IV) and nice singing, with about half of the singers doing well
    Interesting documentary as a bonus

    Cons:

    Dreadful Act III
    Weak singer in the role of Énée, and about the other half of the singers doing poorly
    Rather bad acting across the board
    Ridiculous costumes and fake-looking scenarios - don't expect the visual fireworks of the Valencia Ring - this is definitely not at that level of visual quality
    Questionable update to the space age
    Overcrowded, static staging

    It's hard to say "recommended." Act IV is recommended. The rest, not as much. The Gardiner version is much, much better. For someone who doesn't know Les Troyens, this is definitely NOT recommended, since only in act IV they really convey the extreme beauty of this opera. Get the Gardiner instead. For someone who already knows several versions of this opera, this production does have some beautiful moments and some redeeming qualities, it's not a totally wasted buy.
    This article was originally published in forum thread: Operas by Berlioz on DVD, Blu-ray, and CD started by Almaviva View original post


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