From The Metropolitan Opera Archives:

Les Troyens 1993-94

Les Troyens program Page 1 Les Troyens program Page 2


Berlioz' Glorious Les Troyens

"The word ‘masterpiece’ has been so debased that one is a little hesitant to use it these days. Cultural conservatives claim the term for virtually everything written before they were born while the chattering classes apply it promiscuously to whatever happens to be fashionable – and just a little outre – at the moment.

"Still, I’m going to call Berlioz’ Les Troyens a masterpiece – a vast, extraordinary hybrid of fervid Romanticism and high Classicism that has all the passion of the one and all the elevation and composure of the other. The Metropolitan Opera’s 1973 production, revived Thursday night for the first time in 10 years, has its flaws, but anybody who cares about music, theater, history, literature and a half-dozen other disciplines – anybody who cares anything about the life of the mind and highest standards of western civilization – should immediately plan to spend the requisite five hours at the Met before Les Troyens vanishes from the repertory for another decade. This grave, stately summary of a lifetime of meditation, from one of the 19th Century’s most original musical thinkers, is like nothing else in the world.

"Time and again, a listener is startled by both the opera’s profound rootedness (in Virgil’s Aeneid, in the music of Gluck, in the milieu of the Parisian 1860s) and its absolute unpredictability (who could possibly have imagined that rapturous, mysterious, moonstruck septet built upon little more than a repeated middle C?). The academic mind will never succeed in fully explaining Berlioz; there are technical ‘errors’ throughout the scores that would disqualify him from any conservatory-sponsored award. Indeed, sometimes one thinks he became a great composer by sheer industry and force of will, because he simply would not allow it to be otherwise. But he succeeded – and Les Troyens is the glorious proof.

"The Met’s production is very much of its time. Nothing dates faster than yesterday’s radicalism and this is dated indeed – a weird sort of abstracted representationalism (the Trojan Horse looks like a gilded Triceratops); leather thongs and flashes of buttocks just right for a discreet evening at the Mine Shaft, circa 1977; lattices, staircases, scrims and tinsel. I didn’t like it very much but, swept along by Berlioz’ score, I found it easy to forgive.

"The singers approached Les Troyens with appropriate respect – nobody did any grandstanding, yet one had the sense that all were out to surpass themselves. Maria Ewing, although suffering from a cold, established herself, once again, as a superlative singing actress as the noble Dido. Françoise Pollet, in her house debut, sang the role of Cassandra with robust tone, a close attention to line and language, and a palpable air of tragedy and possession. Tenor Gary Lakes will never be mistaken for a particularly subtle interpreter; that said, and discounting some unfortunate bawling in the first act, he proved a much more sensitive Aeneas than we had any right to expect. Thomas Hampson brought his usual dapper ease to the role Coroebus and there was strong support from Wendy White, Paul Plishka, Susan Graham, Philip Creech, Donald Daasch, Julian Robbins, and Jane Shaulis, among others. James Levine led the Met orchestra and chorus in a propulsive but beautifully detailed performance. If you attend only one opera performance this year, let it be Les Troyens." [Tim Page, "Berlioz’ Glorious Les Troyens" (Newsday 20 December 1993)]


 

 

Françoise Pollet and Thomas Hampson as Coroebus
Françoise Pollet as Cassandra and Thomas Hampson as Coroebus
Photograph by Winnie Klotz.

 

 



Maria Ewing as Dido
Maria Ewing as Dido
Photograph by Winnie Klotz.

 

 



 Susan Graham as Ascanius and Gary Lakes as Aeneas
Susan Graham as Ascanius and Gary Lakes as Aeneas
Photograph by Winnie Klotz.