Les Troyens, Metropolitan Opera live cinema relay, January 5, 2013Posted on 6 January 2013
Where are the Trojans when we need them? They provided the Greeks with stories portraying a welcome incompetence, letting a wooden horse full of Greeks into their city, and having their great warrior Hector defeat someone he thought was Achilles, only to be killed by the real one.
But in this Met production the Trojans are strongly represented, and Deborah Voigt as Cassandra was spectacular, not only singing the part with great power but exhibiting a stage presence worthy of the world’s greatest actresses. The glorious costume helped show her to be the most beautiful woman in the world, desired by Apollo who gave her the gift of prophecy but took it away with the curse that no one would ever believe her.
As the Trojan prince Aeneas, Bryan Hymel took over from Marcello Giordani, who was a puzzling choice for this role. Hymel sang it at Covent Garden last summer, and was once again magnificent. His Act V solo Inutiles regrets was terrific, and his chemistry with Susan Graham as Dido was excellent.
She really came into her own in Act V, so beautiful in her mauve dress earlier in that act, so convincing in her grief. In Acts III and IV she also sang gloriously but came over more as a suburban widow than a queen, though I blame director Francesca Zambello here. I’ve seen her render other vivacious heroines in an unattractive way, and what did all that choreography by Doug Varone achieve in Acts III and IV? It was naff. It was tiresome. Some people left the cinema after Act IV, and indeed the sugary atmosphere was so cloying that Aeneas must have wanted out too. But that’s not the way Virgil intended it, nor indeed Berlioz.
The direction and setting in Acts III and IV was extraordinarily suburban and unregal. Dido, Aeneas and others sat around watching entertainment and looking like actors in a television sit-com, while the camera zoomed in as Dido rearranged her dress. Queens do not do this — indeed imagine Angela Merkel rearranging her dress at a semi-public entertainment, and she is a mere prime minister. Dido was the great queen who led her people from Tyre to found a new colony in North Africa, but Acts III and IV failed to exhibit this. And even in Act V when Dido committed suicide she thrust the short sword to the side of her waist and then turned away from the audience. She should turn first, particularly with camera close-ups, so we can’t see the pretence.
Directorial faults aside, Fabio Luisi in the orchestra pit gave a lyrical account of Berlioz’s score, and the singers and huge chorus were magnificent. Karen Cargill sang very strongly as Dido’s sister Anna, as did Kwangchul Youn as Dido’s Minister Narbal, showing the gravitas that befits a man who sang a wonderful Gurnemanz at Bayreuth last summer. The Met have assembled an excellent cast and among other soloists, Dwayne Croft sang with nobility as Cassandra’s fiancé Coroebus, and Paul Appleby gave a stirring performance of Hylas’s song at the start of Act V.
With David McVicar’s production at Covent Garden, La Scala, San Francisco and Vienna, and now this production at the Met, Les Troyens seems to be much in vogue, but it is long and with the tiresome choreography on display here some cuts to the dance sequences might be very welcome.