Berlioz's Les Troyens is one of the greatest and most beautiful operas ever written. Musically, it is very well served in this blu-ray from Valencia. Valery Gergiev deserves plaudits for his marvelous conducting of this sprawling score. He has at his disposal a virtuoso orchestra, outstanding chorus and soloists and they serve him and Berlioz well. Pre-eminent is Italian mezzo Daniela Barcellona as Didon. Her ample, lustruous voice fills the part in ways that reminds one of its previous big voiced great exponents such as Christa Ludwig and Jessye Norman. One could think of more polished tenors as Aenée than Lance Ryan, but he fits the part ably if shy of outstandingly. Then there is the marvelous work by the Portuguese soprano Elisabete Matos as Cassandre, a strong dramatic voice I did not know until now; I hope to encounter it again. In short, musically this is a splendid reading and were one watching with one's eyes closed, it would be a marvelous recording in vivid surround-sound.
I thoroughly admired the work that Carlus Padrissa and La Fura dels Baus did for Wagner's Ring also in Valencia. Indeed, for me those performances constitute the most satisfying filmed Ring so far, musically and visually, and the production,even if unconventional, always illuminating text and music. With Les Troyens, they totally missed the boat. They set the opera in what perhaps can be considered mythical cyberspace. Troy is dark, and the Trojans are dressed in what look like hockey uniforms (what is usually presented as dance, here becomes a boxing match with ropes and rounds cards). When the opera shifts from tragic Troy to sunny, happy Carthage, what we are given is the claustrophobic insides of what looks like a cyclotron, and the costumes get even more nonsensical, incorporating computer screens. All of this absurdity enlightens nothing, calls attention to itself, and fights some of the most beautiful music ever written for the operatic stage. I felt like giving the disc only one star or none given how inimical to the work the staging feels. I gave it two stars because the musical values are so strong. I wound up repeating the second Carthage act from the Royal Hunt and Storm to the end just to hear the ecstatically beautiful music, this time with my eyes closed. Yes, it is very well performed once you shut your eyes.
The worse aspect of the Valencia production is that for any lover of Les Troyens you sense a most disturbing tension: warfare between the mise-en-scene and the score it is supposed to serve. It's almost offensive in the disregard shown text and music.
So ... caveat emptor. If you want a very well performed Troyens that does not visually offend, though with perhaps less of the musical, modern orchestra impact encountered here, I recommend the one from the Chatelet conducted by John Eliot Gardiner with a beautifully sung Didon: Susan Graham. The orchestra performs in period instruments.