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76 of 78 people found the following review helpful
Outstanding!!!Sept. 23 2004
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This new production of Les Troyens at the Chatelet had been one of the major events in the celebrations for the 200th birthday of one of France's greatest composers, Hector Berlioz. Les Troyens is one of the greatest masterpieces of 19th century opera, one that stands alongside with Verdi's `Otello' and Wagner's `Tristan and Isolde'.
Director/designer Yannis Kokkos created wonderful classical sets, brown - gray for the first two acts, white - blue for the second part of the opera and directed a very effective and moving show.
John Eliot Gardiner conducted his Orchestre Revolutionnaire et Romantique magnificently. Various period brass instruments are used on stage according to Berlioz instructions. The Monteverdi Choir combined with the Chatelet Choir make a wonderful and precise sound. The linkage of the music of Berlioz with Gluck is presented here more than in any other performance of this masterpiece I have heard in the past.
Major roles have been given to lighter-voiced singers than one usually associates with this score, but Gardiner assembled a great cast of wonderful singers - actors. Anna Caterina Antonacci is a magnificent Cassandra: a beautiful woman, a fascinating actress. She has a real sense of the text and sings with great beauty. Susan Graham sings a great performance of Dido with big violence and involvement for the tragic last scene of the opera.
Tenor Gregory Kunde sings a lot of bel canto roles, while the heroic Aeneas needs voices like Vickers, Heppner etc. but Kunde as Aeneas is a great surprise. Ludovic Tezier as Chorebe is one of the best baritones singing in French. Mark Padmore sings Iopas aria `Blonde Ceres' beautifully, and Laurent Naouri is an impressive Narbal. So is the young Mezzo from Croatia Renata Pokupic. Tenor Topi Lehtipuu sings the young sailor Hylas's Act V aria `Valon sonore' beautifully.
Great opera. Magnificent performance!
Highly recommended. Should be in every opera fan collection.
39 of 39 people found the following review helpful
Berlioz's Masterpiece in a Stunning ProductionOct. 23 2004
I agree with everything already said here by reviewer T.C. and just wanted to add a few comments. I have been unable to find any weaknesses in this DVD of a live performance at the Théâtre du Châtelet, Paris, in October 2003, in celebration of the 200th anniversary of Berlioz' birth. From a technical standpoint the sound, lighting, stage set, costumes, stage action are simply above criticism. It is hard to imagine singers better suited to this so human, so universal opera. Susan Graham is in glorious voice and rises to the challenge in the final scene ('Je vais mourir,' 'Adieu, fière cité') with acting worthy of Broadway or the West End. One simply can't take one's eyes off her. Gregory Kunde, an American tenor best-known for bel canto and lyric tenor rôles, sings a lyrical Aeneas while not sacrificing the heroic quality so needed for the part. I cannot remember ever hearing a more ravishing account of 'Nuit d'ivresse et d'extase infinie,' the duet of Dido and Aeneas in Act IV. His ease of production allows him to negotiate its high tessitura and yet blend his voice with that of Graham's Dido as I've never heard it. Add to this their ecstatic acting and you have one of the highlights of any filmed opera scene ever recorded. I get goosebumps just thinking about it.
Anna Caterina Antonacci's Cassandra in Acts I and II is of equal power and impact. I'd never heard of her before, but you can be sure I'll be watching for other things of hers. She is a beautiful woman, a powerful actress, has a gloriously rich voice and when she returns, in a coup de théâtre, as Clio in the final Act V tableau to utter 'Fuit Ilium. Stat Roma' ('What once was Troy is now Rome.') there were goosebumps again. [This slightly truncated scene, by the way, is not how the piece is usually ended, but Gardiner and his colleagues cite, in an included marvelous 'extra' hour-long documentary about this production, precedent for this revised ending, I was convinced of its rightness.]
There is not a weak singer among the secondary roles. I would like to single out Ludovic Tézier (Chorébe), Laurent Naouri (Narbal), Stéphanie d'Oustrac (Ascagne), and Renata Pokupic (Anna) for special praise. Singing one of the most beautiful arias in all of opera, Hylas's 'Vallon sonore,' the song of the homesick sailor that begins Act V, is a wonderful young lyric tenor, Topi Lehtipuu.
John Eliot Gardiner has long been known as a fine Berlioz conductor. His original-instrument Orchestra Révolutionnaire et Romantique (which here uses Berlioz's original orchestration including saxhorns) plays with clarity, grace and lightness, but is able to provide the pomp and ceremony in the martial, minatory and celebratory scenes. The 'Royal Hunt and Storm' is particularly fine, as is the recurring 'Trojan March.' The combined singers of Gardiner's Monteverdi Chorus and the chorus of the Châtelet not only sing with wonderful precision and diction, they also display ingeniously individualized acting. Yannis Kokkos's set design, costumes and stage direction are stunning. I still don't know how he managed what appears to be a mirror-image upstage that often shows us the backs of the actors, but often can be seen to be showing action interesting but different from the downstage action. Is this back-projection? I don't know, but whatever it is, it is hugely effective.
I have not seen the two other DVDs of 'Les Troyens.' I can easily imagine that they must be fine. This one, which emphasizes, partly because of the small size of the Châtelet, the human side of the opera, will satisfy me for a long time to come I suspect.
TT=5hr 12min, 3 DVDs
38 of 38 people found the following review helpful
Spanking gorgeous!!!!Jan. 17 2005
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Do opera DVDs come much better than this?
The quality of the recording, the performances, the sets, the orchestra........OUCH!!!!
This recording is of a superb quality with the vocals excellently discernible and some outstanding performances; indeed, this is probably the finest DVD recording of opera that I own. The original set of instruments that Berlioz had envisioned for his masterpiece are in place as an added bonus.
The performances are what stand out here too, above all Anna Caterina Antonacci and Susan Graham. Antonacci is terrific both vocally and dramatically. As the cast-off Cassandre she looks appropriately exasperated as opposed to constipated and makes a superbly credible mythical figure - expressive not hammy. Her expression of intoxicated mania is at its finest when she urges the Trojan women to kill themselves rather than succumb to the lasciviousness of the conquering Greeks. It is a great moment and a great artistic expression of euphoria induced mob psychology. Antonacci has the right physical presence, broad domineering shoulders but nevertheless sensuous and radiant. Great stuff! Then there is Susan Graham as Dido. Drammatically she produces an impressive performance as an imperious leader but it is vocally where she really excels - what a terrific voice captured so superbly by this recording. The love duet with Aeneas 'Nuit d'invresse et estasie infinie' is really something - Berlioz captured at his magical best - and the performance by Kunde as Aeneas complements Graham's soprano beautifully and not just in this particular duet.
The sets are also used well. The presence of the head (rather than the full body) of the Trojan horse, for example, provides a sense of pervasive and inevitable menace. The use of light gives it an almost ethereal quality and heightens our awareness of Troy's imminent doom. I also liked the use of mirrors here; greek myths should make one feel somewhat ecstatic and intoxicated and everything about this production tends to imbue one with this sensation.
Gardiner's conducting and the orchestra furnished with a full complement of Berliozesque instruments are also on top form; full of sound and fury signifying everything - passion, desire and raw power in equal measure. You really can hear just about every instrument on this recording.
So basically I would recommend that any fan of Berlioz, this opera or indeed any opera should buy this. It is sheer gorgeousity of a spanking nature.
31 of 32 people found the following review helpful
Exemplary.May 28 2005
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As ever so often with the house of BBC Opus Arte, this is an outstanding product, with superior packaging and domumentation, hair-rising state of the art sonics and video quality, and relevant and interesting material supplementary to the main "feature" (a full-length documentary on the production itself deriving from a BBC TV programme, with interviews with the main singers, the conductor and the producer and a sound -i.e., read- detailed synopsis of the opera's plot with visual references to the performance itself). "The Trojans" is nor precisely a repertory work so these extra items do mean an important advantage.
In fact, there's practically nothing at fault here, although not all reviews in this site are favourable. I suppose US viewers will find it unnecessary that the greek invaders in Act 2 wear US Military uniforms and wield mock M16 rifles aimed at the trojan women, a precision at odds with the general timelessness attempted with the clothing, a stylised mixture of styles from several centuries (20th century raincoats, suggested antique breastplates made of some synthetic fibre, antiquity gowns, and the like). The same US guns are used by Aeneas's followers when they are summoned to help Dido's own forces repeal invaders of her realm, further on; an uncalled-for theatrical reference to the US as a world provider of violence instruments?
The production is indeed sumptuous, with outstanding renditions from both US-born protagonists (Graham and Kunde) and especially la Antonacci, who besides her considerable sung performance commands an immense stage presence; in the end, perhaps and in spite of Graham's exquisitely sung Dido, la Antonacci's is the performance that tends to linger in your memory, such is her strength of presence and character (others in the website have commented on her matching physical attractiveness). The exhilarating sounds produced by the original instruments used by the orchestra, especially the winds and brass (some of them traced by Gardiner to private collections as they have long fallen out of use, in France as well as elsewhere), are a delight to hear; this aspect itself sets this set in a class of its own.
The work is rather extravangantly spread over three discs, with the BBC documentary taking half of the third one and sharing it with the last act. But no complaints here either, as the price of the set is within bounds and more than justifies the outlay in view of what you receive.
So, in sum, a gem of a release that will put the way other companies present opera on dvd to shame, and a singular rendition of a key XIX Century opera seldom encountered in theatres today (and altogeher unjustly) in view of its demands.
27 of 28 people found the following review helpful
REKINDLED LOVENov. 22 2004
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In the late 60's and early 70's Les Troyens was not too well known. I purchased the first, complete ground breaking recording (Davis' on Phillips) and fell completely in love with the work listing it as one of my top favorite operas. When the Metropolitan televised the work in the 70's, I watched it and eventually purchased the tape. During that time, I loved the Met's performance, and I especially loved the performances of Jessye Norman, Placido Domingo and especially Tatiana Troyanos. As the years went by, I began to question my love of the work growing weary of the Davis recording (especially its singers) and of the Met's Video (while still adoring Domingo, Norman and especially Troyanos, I had begun to dislike the Met's production with its extravagant costumes, its excessive pageantry and, to me, ridiculous unending ballet sequences). Needless to say the opera slipped WAY down on my list of favorite operas (actually it was no longer on my favorite list) until I purchased this new DVD of the opera. This performance has definitely rekindled my love of the opera!
Sir Gardiner (using what I believe to be "original" instruments) rids the work of, (what I had begun to perceive as) its heaviness and ponderousness. (Down through the years, upon subsequent listening to the above older recordings of Les Troyens, I had begun to feel that it dragged and was about the densest score that I had ever heard-it had begun to bore me!) Under Gardiner's leadership in this performance the heaviness is removed and in its place there is light, crispness and beauty-the work no longer seems to drag. A lot of this new "lightness and crispness" has, of course a lot to do with the principle singers. The singers offer less voice than the older recordings; however, I do feel the work profits from the use of smaller voices.
Antonacci, as Cassandre, gives an overwhelming performance. Both vocally and physically she imparts Cassandre's hysteria magnificently! I was really "blown away" with her performance! She is far from being as monumental (both vocally and physically) as Norman in the Met video, but the role, to me, profits from less--less is more. Antonacci truly makes the role very believable; she portrays Cassandre's agony superbly.
Until this performance I had, in all honestly, not been too impressed with Susan Graham (as everyone else seems to be); however, she is an outstanding Didon. She is queenly, dignified and stately in the first part of the role and completely distraught and moving in the last part giving a heartbreaking account of Didon's despair and death-Brava! For me, she never reaches the vocal and dramatic heights of Troyanos in the Met's performance; however, she is vocally and physically outstanding.
Unlike Domingo (in the Met's recording) Kunde seems very comfortable with the cruel tessitura of the role of Enee. (Domingo dropped the role from his repertoire immediately after the Met performance that was taped finding the tessitura of the role almost impossible to sing). Kunde sings Enee beautifully and with apparent ease not having to make cuts or transpositions.
The production is one of those (what I call) "minimum stagings" that I've grown to love. The stage is rather bare allowing the singers great opportunity to display fully their dramatic acting skills. Believe me, the singers in this performance are really into their roles and are dramatically awesome. As displayed in this production, the Trojan Horses' head is, as it should be, most frightening. For once the ballet sequences did not bore me plus the pageantry was not overblown (as in the Met's performance). It never became tiresome and ridiculous looking. The secondary roles are all sung very well
In conclusion, my love for Berlioz's Les Troyens has been restored due to this performance. The singers might not have "Golden Age" voices but they certainly more than compensate for that fact by melding, exceedingly well their voices with the drama in such away that their performances kept this listener and viewer on the edge of his seat.
i must also add that the picture and sound quality of the DVD are truly marvelous!!