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Thread: Les Troyens at the Royal Opera House - Covent Garden

          
   
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    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    Les Troyens at the Royal Opera House - Covent Garden

    Les Troyens, tragédie-lyrique in five acts - this review is of the Sunday matinée, July 1st, 2012 (the 37th performance at the Royal Opera House)
    Music by Hector Berlioz, composed between 1856 and 1858, premiered (partially) in 1863
    Libretto by Hector Berlioz after Virgil's Aeneid

    For extensive information on the opera itself, including musical structure, circumstances of composition, trivia, performance history, greatest singers, and many other details, please consult Opera Lively's comprehensive in-depth series on Les Troyens, by clicking [here].

    This production is scheduled to be presented live on Mezzo TV and on The Space, on July 5, 2012
    The recording will be released in cinemas in November 2012
    It will be released on DVD in 2013, from FRA Musica, video direction by François Roussillon

    Conductor Sir Antonio Pappano
    Orchestra of the Royal Opera House
    Royal Opera Chorus directerd by Renato Balsadonna

    Stage Director David McVicar
    Associate Stage Director Leah Hausman
    Set Designs Es Devlin
    Costumes Moritz Junge
    Lighting Wolfgang Göbbel
    Choreography and movement Andrew George

    Cast, in order of appearance

    A Soldier - Daniel Crice
    Cassandre, a Trojan prophetess, Priam's daughter - Anna Caterina Antonacci
    Chorèbe, prince of Phrygia, Cassandre's fiancé - Fabio Caitanucci
    Panthée, a priest - Ashely Holland
    Hélénus, a Trojan priest, Priam's son - Ji Hyun Kim
    Ascagne, Énée's son - barbara Senator
    Hécube, queen of Troy - Pamela Helen Stephen
    Priam, king of Troy - Robert Lloyd
    Polyxène, their daughter, Cassandre's sister - Jenna Sloan
    Andromaque, widow of Priam's son Hector - Sophia McGregor
    Astyanax, son of Andromaque and Hector - Sebastian Wright
    Énée, a Trojan hero, son of Venus - Bryan Hymel
    Ghost of Hector - Jihoon Kim
    Greek Captain - Lukas Jakobski
    Didon, queen of Carthage and widow of Sychaëus, prince of Tyre - Eva-Maria Westbroek
    Anna, Didon's sister - Hanna Hipp
    Iopas, court poet - Ji-Min Park
    Narbal, minister to Didon - Brindley Sherratt
    The god Mercure - Daniel Grice
    Hylas, a Phrygian sailor - Ed Lyon
    First soldier - Adrian Clarke
    Second soldier - Jeremy White

    Trojan people, Greek soldiers, Trojan soldiers, sailors, Didon's courtiers and servants, Carthagians, chorus, dancers, acrobats

    Running times:
    Act I 66 minutes
    Act II 24 minutes
    Intermission
    Act III 49 minutes
    Act IV 58 minutes
    Intermission
    Act V 54 minutes

    -----------

    Be prepared for a string of superlatives. This was one of the best live productions I've ever seen, and when it gets released on DVD, it will be an obligatory buy for opera lovers. Mostly everything in it worked extremely well. After extensive preparation - I hope you've read my In-Depth series of articles on Les Troyens, my third favorite opera behind only the Ring (if taken as one) and Tristan und Isolde - it was with trepidation that I approached the day. My expectation was building up to a point that made me fear a let down, given the usual phenomenon of disappointment when we want too much from something.

    Besides, this production had some "firsts" for me that increased the tension of my wait: seeing for the first time live on stage one of the artists I admire the most, Anna Caterina Antonacci; watching Maestro Pappano conducting, and attending an opera at beautiful Covent Garden. All of this justified the trip from America, especially for this occasion.

    On top of it, my wife and I were to meet in person for the first time three Opera Lively staff members: Soave_Fanciulla, sospiro, and Elektra.

    We arrived to London the day before, Saturday June 30th, by atypical gorgeous weather - blue skies, pleasant light wind, the city full of flags and decorations for the upcoming Olympic Games, happy and colorful crowds on the streets. We are staying at the lovely Waldorf hotel, in the heart of the Covent Garden neighborhood, surrounded by beautiful cafes and pubs and nice restaurants, plus the lively market. We spent the Saturday walking around aimlessly, just taking in the views and the people watching. We walked for hours, and then met our lovely staffers, who each got from me a bear hug (I think my enthusiasm surprised a bit these nice ladies). CountessAlmaviva and I then ended the day by purchasing some excellent bread, cheese, prosciutto, and wine, and went back to the hotel to have a private and relaxed meal.

    Then Sunday arrived - and it was one of the most entertaining days of my existence. First, extremely delicious breakfast at the hotel, in a very beautiful room, and with ingredients of the most exquisite quality. From there, I headed back to the room to take a phone call from Danielle de Niese, with whom I had a lovely phone interview, which will be published shortly on Opera Lively. It ended just in time to get to the Royal Opera House and meet sospiro, Soave, and Elektra. After half an hour browsing the shop and buying souvenirs, we headed to one of the restaurants in the opera house, for a gourmet lunch. First course and main entree were served before the opera (downed with a Prosecco), and dessert during the first intermission (with a Banyuls).

    We got to our Grand Tier box, snatched by sospiro under fierce competition for the tickets. Perfect view of the pit and the stage. The four of us (Elektra was on the opposite wing) took our seats.

    At precisely 3 PM (the British are punctual!), Maestro Pappano attacked the first notes - there is no overture since Berlioz didn't want strings before Cassandre's entrance) and the curtain went up, offering us the first view of the striking sets designed by Es Devlin, who continued to dazzle us throughout the afternoon with her atmospheric displays.

    A bleak, dark, and gray space filled with the rubble of a long war, with scrap metal everywhere, and a circular four-story wall. The Trojans timidly come out, first just a soldier, battle-weary, with some bloody stains on him. The Greeks apparently have abandoned the siege, and the chorus starts to fill up the stories on the wall, singing jubilantly of the new freedom. Here comes Cassandre... my heart skips a beat. I'm a few yards from Anna Caterina Antonacci. She starts to sing, and I let out a little gasp - oh my God, I won't be disappointed! She *is* what I expected: a gorgeous voice, a beautiful woman, a great actress. She fills the theater with pathos. The palms of her hands have eyes painted on them. Her movement on stage is convincing and precise, her voice conquers the huge orchestra and sounds crispy and full. We're in for a treat, I think!

    Well, let's make a long story, short. I need to go to bed.

    Sets - beautiful. The walls open to reveal the bleak interior of suffering Troy. The horse is extremely impressive and majestic (made of metal weapons), and simply huge. At the end of act II Troy catches fire, to stunning effect. Act III opens with beautiful Carthage, made in two different and simultaneous scales - a small model of the city in a round platform in the middle of the stage, and another reproduction of city buildings, more natural-sized, as the background. These sets move around for the Hunt and Storm scene, and the city maquette goes up like a giant moon, later acquiring purple colors that suggest the impeding doom of Carthage. Hannibal rising is a huge statue made of the same metal weaponry used for the horse. All very tasteful and with great impact.

    Lighting - equally good. Some of the color effects were striking, and there were projections of a wild moving see over the curtains during intermissions.

    Dynamic use of space, blocking - couldn't be better. This opera has a huge chorus and many characters - but there wasn't a single moment when the stage felt over-crowded. The use of the several floors on the background wall allowed the chorus to come in and out in a non-intrusive and well distributed way.

    Costumes - for the Trojans, Crimean War military uniforms (appropriate to the time when Berlioz was composing the opera). For the bright and happy Carthagians, colorful clothing in Tunisian style, more period-looking (as you should know by reading my in-depth series, the real Carthage was located in what is now Tunisia). All very appropriate and interesting.

    Staging concept - very good. Some updating, but nothing outrageous, and the drama was very well conveyed.

    Acting - first rate for the most part, with special kudos to Anna Caterina Antonacci. Bryan Hymel was a bit more static and less convincing when conveying emotions, otherwise the cast was homogeneously good in terms of acting.

    Conducting, orchestral playing - The Independent had a rather weak review published on the Sunday paper. They said that Maestro Pappano had slow tempi during the third and fourth acts. Well, these people don't know what they are saying. Berlioz was the one who reduced the tempo for the more romantic acts. Maestro Pappano was perfect in his tempi. No complaints there whatsoever, and his orchestra sounded precise and with great sonority. Oh well, the critic for The Independent is the same one who complained that the opera was too long and should have had cuts, while we from Opera Lively were unanimously thankful to Sir Antonio for giving us the entire uncut score. Time flew. Les Troyens has manageable length, contrary to popular belief. You just need to love the piece, like we do.

    Choreography - just fine. Again, I've read criticism that we couldn't tell that the Hunt and Storm scene was such, and that the ballet of the professions in the third act was silly. These in my opinion are not valid criticisms. The ballet of the professions was contagious and happy, depicting the queen's warm relationship with her people - they played with her, and were able to convey a juvenile simple happiness. One wouldn't expect people in Carthage to break into classical ballet dancing. I found that the choreography made sense. It made of a ballet segment something more than the usual required piece in a Grand Opéra. It made it part of the narrative. Some people also complained of the fourth act ballets as not clearly divided into Berlioz's segments. Well, no, they weren't, but they also made sense: they were extremely sensual, and that's exactly what is needed in the fourth act, to underline Didon's and Énée's passion, and the exciting lives the Trojans were having in Carthage, making it even more painful to leave in the name of duty, in act V.

    Singing - oh wow. The highlight of the evening, obviously. What an extremely talented cast! It is very rare for Les Troyens to have a cast that is good across the board, given the huge number of characters. The Royal Opera House has accomplished just that. There weren't weak links. None. We first got a little worried about Bryan Hymel, but he warmed up and delivered sensational singing by the fourth and fifth acts. Anna Caterina was her usual spectacular self. Fabio Capitanucci as Chorèbe was excellent. Dignified old Priam, a short role, was very well rendered by veteran ROH singer Robert Lloyd. Andromache, a silent role, was acted by a strikingly beautiful woman, Sophia McGregor. The Ghost of Hector by young artist Jihoon Kim was a nice surprise, one to watch! An even bigger surprises were three other members of the ROH Young Artist program, all three simply sensational: extremely attractive, gifted singer Hanna Hipp, born in Poland, who physically looks like a younger version of Anna Caterina Antonacci, and has a lovely voice; Ji-Min Park did a great job as Iopas, in his beautiful aria, and so did Ed Lyon who is gifted with handsome good looks and a great lyrical voice, as Hylas. Brindley Sherratt singing Narbal was announced as having a throat infection, but one wouldn't say; he sang very well. The same clueless critic from The Independent deemed Eva-Maria Westbroek "girlish" (I assume, as a criticism since her role needs gravitas) - but no, she was just acting very well the worry-free Didon of the third act, but was able to deliver the necessary tragic weight in act V - and her voice was also lovely, although with a little less projection over the orchestra than some of the other singers. But these little foibles - Bryan Hymel taking a little longer than others to warm up (but then, his role spans both halves of the opera so this may be justified by his need to pace himself) and Ms. Westbroek having live on stage a bit of a smaller voice than I expected from seeing her on DVDs - were insignificant when taken in the context of an extraordinary vocal performance by this large cast.

    Soave_Fanciulla was stunned and teary-eyed. I had goose bumps several times. My wife loved it. Annie as the host seemed afraid that we wouldn't like it and was less effusive - but then, she is seeing it three times - a full dress rehearsal, today, and she is coming again next week. [Update - Annie says that no, she *did* love it quite a lot!]. We met Elektra in the foyer, and she was also highly impressed. OK, by unanimity, we give to this production an A+.

    And then, after the show we went backstage to meet Anna Caterina Antonacci, who was down to Earth, gracious, and extremely nice to us. We took memoir pictures with her.

    I'll post pictures later. Now I need some sleep. Happy sleep, after a great day.
    Last edited by Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva); July 2nd, 2012 at 08:51 PM.
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

  2. #2
    Opera Lively News Coordinator Top Contributor Member MAuer's Avatar
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    Great review, and so glad that you and the Countess are enjoying your visit to London -- and the company of sospiro, Soave_Fanciulla, and Elektra!

  3. #3
    Opera Lively Moderator Top Contributor Member Amfortas's Avatar
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    Wonderful review, Alma. It's great that you guys all finally got to meet one another, and also great that Berlioz's long-neglected masterpiece has been so well served in recent years.

  4. #4
    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    Yes, well served. Bryan Hymel was saying how different it is to have the very loud modern orchestra as opposed to the Paris Les Troyens on period instruments. At certain points, the volume of the orchestra, singers, and chorus was deafening, especially given the rather intimate dimensions of the Royal Opera House, as compared to the Met. And still, they got it right. A very impressive feat by Sir Antonio Pappano and the singers. This was a great production, both musically and theatrically.
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

  5. #5
    Opera Lively Moderator Top Contributor Member Soave_Fanciulla's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Amfortas View Post
    Wonderful review, Alma. It's great that you guys all finally got to meet one another, and also great that Berlioz's long-neglected masterpiece has been so well served in recent years.
    I kept saying - "Alan would have loved this". The staging was very good, expecially the visual aspects of the set design, not to mention the special effects (I nearly fell out of the box when the horse started breathing fire at us - Annie is going next week again and as she is sitting in the front row she is planning to wear fire resistant clothing).
    Natalie

  6. #6
    Schigolch
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    Quote Originally Posted by Almaviva View Post
    Yes, well served. Bryan Hymel was saying how different it is to have the very loud modern orchestra as opposed to the Paris Les Troyens on period instruments. At certain points, the volume of the orchestra, singers, and chorus was deafening, especially given the rather intimate dimensions of the Royal Opera House, as compared to the Met. And still, they got it right. A very impressive feat by Sir Antonio Pappano and the singers. This was a great production, both musically and theatrically.
    For a piece written in the 1850s and never performed at full lenght until near the 20th century, I don't think this "period" instruments is really such a big deal.

    The other day I was reading an interview with Alexei Lubimov, and he was claiming that playing Debussy's music in a Bechstein's piano from the early 20th century, it was making a big difference to him... Well, you never know. At least, I've never tried.

  7. #7
    Opera Lively Media Consultant Top Contributor Member Ann Lander (sospiro)'s Avatar
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    There was an interval after the end of Act 2 and the artists who wouldn't re-appear later came out for a curtain call. Curtain calls mid-opera don't usually happen in UK but I suppose they made an exception just for this.

    1st interval curtain call

    Final curtain call
    "Every theatre is an insane asylum, but an opera theatre is the ward for the incurables."

    FRANZ SCHALK, attributed, Losing the Plot in Opera: Myths and Secrets of the World's Great Operas

  8. #8
    treemaker
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    Annie, what are we seeing there in back of the chorus? It looks like a model layout of a city, and then next to that is some huge statue? Fascinating. Impressive curtain call... over 6 minutes long.

  9. #9
    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by treemaker View Post
    Annie, what are we seeing there in back of the chorus? It looks like a model layout of a city, and then next to that is some huge statue? Fascinating. Impressive curtain call... over 6 minutes long.
    Yes, it's the model of Carthage.
    The statue is Hannibal.
    And yes, the production was truly fascinating. It will be broadcast tomorrow on Mezzo TV which unfortunately is only distributed in Europe, but then in November it will be in movie theaters, and in 2013 it will be out on DVD.
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

  10. #10
    Senior Member Involved Member emiellucifuge's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Almaviva View Post
    And yes, the production was truly fascinating. It will be broadcast tomorrow on Mezzo TV which unfortunately is only distributed in Europe, but then in November it will be in movie theaters, and in 2013 it will be out on DVD.

    I set it to record before I left the house this morning!

  11. #11
    Senior Member Involved Member jflatter's Avatar
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    The opera was available online and on demand to UK users for a while.
    Last edited by Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva); January 6th, 2018 at 03:05 PM.

  12. #12
    Senior Member Involved Member jflatter's Avatar
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    I think it is now worldwide so tuck in and enjoy!

  13. #13
    Senior Member Involved Member jflatter's Avatar
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    I was at the performance last night and the rehearsal and generally agree with Alma says. Although I did not rate the ballet and last night I was with a regular ballet goer who thought it was quite bad. Other than that I thought it was wonderful Hymel last night was even more exciting than in the rehearsal and nailed all the money notes. Westbroek was a charming and regal Didon and Antonacci just keeps leaving me stunned. Her performance will be one to tell the grandchildren about. Pappano's conducting seemed brisker last night than at the rehearsal and has done very well with pulling off one hell of a tricky score.

  14. #14
    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    Well, the regular ballet goer most likely is thinking of real ballet, while what was done there was a reproduction of joyful dancing by the people from Carthage and not meant to be classical ballet. It was done for a different reason, with a different purpose. The show was opera, not ballet. Most likely, if I attended a ballet and some dancer started singing, I wouldn't find it as good as operatic singing. I think that the production was very close to perfection and one for the ages, ballet or not.
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

  15. #15
    Senior Member Veteran Member Aksel's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Schigolch View Post
    For a piece written in the 1850s and never performed at full lenght until near the 20th century, I don't think this "period" instruments is really such a big deal.
    I would think it actually does make a difference. Brass instruments have developed considerably during the past 200 years, and the instruments Berlioz were writing for are not the instruments that play this music today. Today, brass instruments have a much fuller and generally louder sound than those of the 1850s. Trombones were for instance much more narrowly bored and with smaller bells, and were therefore not able to make the vast oceans of sound they can produce today. I think there is something to what Mr. Hymel is saying.

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