[Met Performance] CID:235350
Metropolitan Opera Premiere
Les Troyens {1} Metropolitan Opera House: 10/22/1973.
 (Metropolitan Opera Premiere)
(Debuts: Maureen Smith, Felicia Montealegre, Richard T. Gill, Kenneth Riegel, Rafael Kubelik, Peter Wexler
Review / Chapter: Les Troyens 1973-74)

Metropolitan Opera House
October 22, 1973
Benefit sponsored by the Metropolitan Opera Guild
for the production funds
Metropolitan Opera Premiere


I: La prise de Troie

Cassandra...............Shirley Verrett
Coroebus................Louis Quilico
Aeneas..................Jon Vickers
Ascanius................Judith Blegen
Priam...................Edmond Karlsrud
Hecuba..................Jean Kraft
Helenus.................William Lewis
Polyxena................Maureen Smith [Debut]
Andromache..............Felicia Montealegre [Debut]
Astyanax................Douglas Grober
Panthus.................Richard T. Gill [Debut]
Hector's Ghost..........Clifford Harvuot
Trojan Soldier..........Russell Christopher

II: Les Troyens à Carthage

Dido....................Shirley Verrett
Anna....................Mignon Dunn
Narbal..................John Macurdy
Iopas...................Kenneth Riegel [Debut]
Ascanius................Judith Blegen
Panthus.................Richard T. Gill
Aeneas..................Jon Vickers
Mercury.................Edmond Karlsrud
Hylas...................Leo Goeke
Trojan Soldier..........Andrij Dobriansky
Trojan Soldier..........Richard Best
Priam's Ghost...........Edmond Karlsrud
Coroebus's Ghost........Robert Goodloe
Cassandra's Ghost.......Elvira Green
Hector's Ghost..........Clifford Harvuot

Act II Ballet
Dido: Ellen Rievman
Aeneas: William Badolato
Iarbas: Jeremy Ives
Cupid and Mercury: Jack Hertzog
Corps de Ballet

Conductor...............Rafael Kubelik [Debut]
Director................Nathaniel Merrill
Designer................Peter Wexler [Debut]
Choreographer...........Todd Bolender

Les Troyens received eleven performances this season.
[John Nelson prepared the chorus for this production.]

Part I of the Les Troyens production a gift of Mrs. Charles S. Payson

Part II of the Les Troyens production a gift of Francis Goelet

Alternate title: The Trojans.

Review of Alan Rich in New York Magazine


At the press conference following the dress rehearsal of the Metropolitan Opera's new production of "Les Troyens," the stage director Nathaniel Merrill made a statement that I never expected to hear in that house. "We planned this production," he said, "for people who are willing to think for themselves." If this is true, and I have no reason to doubt Merrill's intelligence or veracity, then the Met is truly launched into a new era.

Any way you look at it, the new production is a stupendous achievement. Most important, of course, is the simple fact that it restores to our eyes and ears a towering musical and dramatic masterpiece, whose stature has until recent years been little more than a shadow across the pages of music-history textbooks. Every aspect of the production reflects awareness of the stature of this work by the person or persons involved; what we see or hear on the stage and in the orchestral pit takes the full measure of Berlioz's awe-inspiring creation.

This cannot have been easy, because this particular work of Berlioz reveals its glories subtly and slowly. Most of the music by this composer that we know well - the "Fantastique" and "Harold," "Faust," the "Requiem," and "Roméo" - are the products of his rich, robust and extroverted earlier years. The sweeping majesty of this music is relatively easy to experience, "Les Troyens" is a jagged, difficult score. Even the flamboyant moments in the early scenes: the exultant opening chorus, the crushing tragedy of the destruction of Troy, the harrowing frenzy of Cassandra's unheeded songs of doom - these are set to music that is intricate, austere, slow to reveal its tensions and its power. In "Faust" Berlioz has his Mephistopheles remark that the art of counterpoint represents "La bestialité dans toute sa candeur," but it is that same "bestiality," in the hands of a composer who by 1856 had taken on the insights of a sublime master of musical drama, that motivates and lends dazzling intensity to these haunting early scenes of his vast dramatic panorama.

The music of the later scenes, the doom-ridden love of Dido and Aeneas, is no less subtle. Berlioz never takes the easy way out here, the sort of all-purpose exoticism that a Meyerbeer, say, might have evoked to paint his scenes and his moods. He has become a keen observer of the French language; like Rameau before him and Debussy later on, he allows the supple rhythms of that language to direct his melodies. No composer of his century set French to music with such insights, such power to invent long, sinuous, non-symmetrical phrases that twine inseparably around words and phrases and penetrate deeply into their dramatic implications. The colors that he finds in his orchestra to clothe these words - the still, quiet lushness of the love music, for example, and the single foreboding stroke that ends it - draw us toward this music, but it is not easy music to assimilate even so. In examining the complete workmanship of "Les Troyens" from afar, one is at first astounded at the vastness of the dramatic problem which Berlioz had set for himself to solve, and then by his continual self-denial of the easy solution in favor of the more personal, difficult, complex alternative.

"Les Troyens" is, therefore, like no other opera the Metropolitan has attempted, and this makes the triumph of the present production all the more astonishing. Rafael Kubelik has had to make his orchestra into a Berlioz ensemble with no precedent for the task - to work for the hard clarity in the brasses, a perfect balance in moments where a few winds, strings and harps must shimmer like moonbeams, an absolute definition of percussion sounds. Fortunately, the management has been able to find him sufficient rehearsal time to bring this about, and he has put this time to good use. The playing of his orchestra is almost the single most spectacular element in this production -its playing, and the uses that Kubelik himself puts into it, with his fine sense of pacing, his impeccable mastery of every nuance in the score.

He has been aided immeasurably by the work of an almost perfect cast. Jon Vickers's Aeneas is the work of a supreme musical artist, a singer with more command than anyone I know of dramatic vocal color, a man whose every musical gesture means something vital to the situation in which he is involved. While not perfectly endowed by nature to suggest either the heroism or the ardor of Aeneas - and his Gorgeous-George blond wig really ought to be reconsidered-Vickers is one of those exceptional singers whose command of the art of singing dwarfs any and all other considerations. Shirley Verrett, who sings both the Cassandra and, because of the continued illness of Christa Ludwig, the Dido, has for herself a stunning triumph in both roles. She is glorious to behold, and her luscious, pliant voice is at this moment in prime estate. The range of moods she must encompass during the long evening, the flaming passion in the melodic lines Berlioz invented for both of his heroines: these are incredible challenges, and Verrett has met them in a way that has to rank as one of the great personal "tours de force" in the company's 90-year history. Mignon Dunn, as Dido's confidante, and Louis Quilico, as Cassandra's lover, are also outstanding in the large cast which has been welded into a marvelously integrated performing unit. Words of the highest praise must also be summoned for the chorus, which has a great deal of difficult work to do in this score, and does it exceptionally well.

The sets are by Peter Wexler, and the direction by Merrill, and they do as well by the eye as the musical forces do by the ear. Timidly, but with considerable success, the Met has stuck its toe into the production techniques of its own century. There are movie projections skillfully employed here and there, notably for Cassandra's vision of the Horse in the first act, and for the Royal Hunt and Storm in the second. I think the latter might have worked better if the pictures had been thrown on a wider screen, rather than on a small circle of the back wall, but one has to begin somewhere. The scenes at Troy are set on a series of rotating staircases, platforms, and geometric figures that move quickly and easily to change the settings without interrupting the music. Best of all, they leave plenty of empty space on the stage, which Merrill fills with musical forces, rather than with extra stage paraphernalia. That in itself is a major step forward for the Met.

One must note for the record, of course, that Sarah Caldwell's Boston production had, on a tiny made-over stage, both a full-sized wooden horse and a realistic destruction of Troy - both great fun to watch if not specified in the sore. Wexler and Merrill merely suggest these effects with their lights and projections, leaving the mind free to experience and interpret. It works both ways.

Wexler's costumes are marvelous, and Merrill's groupings of his colors, especially in some of the massed choral scenes at the Trojan court, may remind you of some grandiose panoply that Delacroix might have painted. A Delacroix mood is, of course, just right for the sounds of Berlioz.

The Carthage scenes are handsome, but again fairly simple: drops and relatively few pieces of stage furniture. It is a pleasure and one rarely accorded, to find the Met putting so much trust in music and people to bring a dramatic action to life. Not that this is, an any way, an economical production, but at least - as Schuyler Chapin pointed out with deserved pride -it was brought in at its $400,000 budget. Todd Bolender's choreography, for a relatively small number of the Met's rather seedy ballet corps plus a few acrobats, is charming and witty, one of the best pieces of work you'll see at the house these nights.

"Les Troyens" is, all in all, a stupendous achievement for the company, a tribute to the vision of its new regime, and an accomplishment that has surpassed in actuality the hopes that were raised for it. Among the spectators at its unveiling was Rudolf Bing, who has publicly pronounced the work "a crashing bore." May he derive heartburn from eating his words.

Chapter: Les Troyens 1973-74

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