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16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
atrocious production, a parody of the true workJune 23 2011
Ivor E. Zetler
- Published on Amazon.com
I had high hopes for this performance, given the same directorial team's production of Wagner's Ring cycle. My viewing experience got off to a bad start in being unable to access the subtitles. But this was the least of my worries. This magnificent, though sprawling opera is positively mangled in the Valencia production. There are so many horrors to be encountered on this DVD that a major essay would be required to detail their totality.
The first act has Cassandra being wheeled on in a wheelchair. It is not long before she miraculously proceeds to easily walk around the stage only to reposition herself in the wheelchair on occasions during the act. In the third act Didon is fitted out with a afro wig that makes her look like Minnie Mouse. The action seems to be taking place within a computer and there are suggestions of Trojan viruses and so forth. The costuming is continually weird and incongruent; echoes of Star Wars,baseball uniforms and what have you. Lance Ryan appears to be wearing the same dreadlocks wig he utilised in the Ring cycle. Given the vast expense this production would have incurred, they must have needed to cut some corners!
The jewel of the opera, the ballet and love scene in act four is virtually a total failure, going down as the proverbial limp lettuce. The only redemption is encountered in some artful dancing where one encounters a rare episode of simplicity. The love duet has the two singers suspended and hardly making eye contact. Perhaps Lance Ryan is not really turned on by a Minnie Mouse lookalike! I could go on but I trust you are getting the message. If this issue has any merit, it would be for the laughs it might generate in viewing the absurdities of the production. To my eyes, this staging is a parody of Berlioz's masterwork.
Given the distractions of this production, the musical values are somewhat overwhelmed. As it is, the saving grace of this enterprise would be the orchestral playing under the estimable direction of Valery Gergiev. The singing is generally satisfactory but there are a number of singers with wide vibratos. To my ears there are no standout performances like those encountered in the Gardiner set.Lance Ryan's French diction is poor and I found his voice unattractive and strained on occasions.
It was a relief to review the magisterial version from the Chatalet Theatre conducted by John Elliot Gardiner. In this production the sets, costumes and direction are simple, uncluttered and tasteful. The singing is far superior and consistently satisfying. Here one can experience the true majesty of Berlioz's great opera. I would avoid the Valecia issue unless you are after a good laugh at a ridiculous example of Eurotrash. As we would say in Australia, and I mean no disrespect to the noble canine species, this production is a real dog.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Not recommendedJuly 9 2011
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This is, unfortunately, a disappointment, mainly because of staging. From the musical point of view, the performance is not bad, though less splendid performances than Gardiner 2003 from Paris. The Valencia Orchestra plays beautifully for Valery Gergiev. Elizabeth Matos is a good Cassandra; Danielle Barcelona is a good Dido. Lance Ryan who has a big voice, sings Aeneas, but his performance lacks subtlety and his diction in French is poor. Singers for the secondary roles are adequate to good.
The staging was made by La Fura dels Baus. I loved their "Damnation de Faust" for the Salzburg Festival 1999, and their staging for the Valencia Ring is impressive. But directing here is in my opinion a big missed opportunity. The opera takes place here in a futuristic world like "Star Wars". For my taste, it doesn't work. Costumes are ridiculous and ugly. Poor Danielle Barcelona. She is a wonderful singer. How they managed to disfigure her here. Dressed her in an awkward sort of kimono, and her head is covered with an ugly wig. She looks ridiculous, like a caricature of the Mikado in the famous Gilbert and Sullivan operetta... A sad joke
And the direction succeeds in spoiling all the great moments of opera. The mass suicide of Cassandra and the women, one of the highlights of the opera, then entirely not effective here, as it happens behind the heavy curtain and a strong red background, that barely lets see. Another highlight of the opera, the great duet for Dido and Aeneas at the end of the fourth act, is destroyed by the director that chooses to put the two singers on a basket suspended in the air as they sing a passionate love duet, when there is no eye contact between them at all... etc. ...
The Gardiner 2003 performance is currently the best available on DVD and Blu-ray.
9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
Musically Very Fine, Incongruous, Distracting ProductionJune 16 2011
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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.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Beware of Geeks bearing laptopsJuly 14 2011
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In principle, I'm all for the approach and the use of new technology that the experimental Catalan theatre group la Fura dels Baus bring to opera productions. In practice however, I can never get past the dumb ideas that they sometimes base their concepts upon. Although I have avoided it myself, a lot of people like their Valencia Ring cycle, and I can see how their approach to total music theatre would work with Wagner - much as it suits, in principle, the dramatic theatricality of Hector Berlioz (they've done La Damnation De Faust in the past). In practice however, I'm afraid their production of Les Troyens just doesn't work for me.
Seriously. What genius (that would be Carlus Padrissa) though it would be a great idea to take the metaphor of the Trojan Horse virus back to its source and make it literal? The phrase, "Beware of Greeks or other outside hostile agencies bearing gifts of laptops carrying viruses that may compromise the integrity of your system", doesn't really have all that great a ring to it. Even if you were to find this feeble concept worthy of more than a minute's consideration, there's little to support it in this staging, which is an impressive spectacle certainly (you are always guaranteed that at least from la Fura dels Baus), but it's also a complete hotchpotch of ideas and concepts that look a complete mess and don't come across particularly well on video. Some of the scenes mixing projections and live action, hanging singers and acrobats from cables, are impressive, enhancing the nightmarish visions of Cassandra and representing the death of Laco'on well in the first half, but really, does this bring anything meaningful out of the work, or is it just half-baked concepts and Cirque du Soleil spectacle?
Conducted by Valery Gergiev, the Valencia production at least remains hugely entertaining from a musical viewpoint, although I wouldn't put it above the John Eliot Gardner version. The singing is mostly of a good standard, particularly the two female leads Elisabete Martos (Cassandra) and Daniela Barcellona (Dido), but again, personally, I prefer the performances of Anna Caterina Antonacci and Susan Graham in the Châtelet production. Gregory Kunde is however certainly a better Aeneas than Lance Ryan here, who I thought delivered everything in a dreary declamatory fashion and in a tone that becomes unpleasantly nasal on the high notes. His poor diction moreover painfully murders the French libretto.
The quality of the Blu-ray itself - the entire opera on a single BD50 disc - is reasonably good, the image as clear as it can be on a dark stage that uses a lot of back and front-screen projections. The audio tracks - PCM stereo and DTS 5.1 HD master audio - are both fine, if there is little to choose between them. Overall, if you don't think too much about the terrible concept and are able to simply just enjoy the spectacle of the staging, this isn't a bad version of Les Troyens, and it's certainly well performed - but there is a much better version out there already on Blu-ray in terms of production values, spectacle and overall quality of the performance.
Gergiev leads a propulsive, exciting account of this greatest of French operas, and he has some magnificent singers to work with. Elisabete Matos is a fine Cassandre--and I suppose I can accept the idea that she's in (and out) of a wheelchair as a symbol of her semi-disabled state. Certainly the poor woman has a big problem, being able to see the fall of Troy and unable to get anyone to believe her. As Chorebe, Gabriele Viviani partners her ably in their extended first act duet, without leaving a particularly vivid impression. Lance Ryan, a very busy tenor in Europe, seems to have all the notes and doesn't visibly tire, but I cannot warm up very much to the basic sound; I'll ascribe that to personal taste and go along with him here (I didn't much enjoy his Siegfried in the Fura del Baus' Ring cycle either, although we have heard much, much worse). Daniela Barcellona is a very fine Didon, but the designers have awarded her what may be the dumbest wig in opera history--which is saying a lot. About the production I have decidedly mixed feelings, but I'm sure in the theater it would be striking and provocative. The Trojan horse looks, for once, big enough for a lot of sweaty, claustrophobic Greeks to hide in. It's an ingenious object, if not particularly equine. And that might be the keynote of the whole production: ingenious, impressive, but often not obviously related to the story. Repeated viewings may improve this disc; unquestionably, there is a lot here.