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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars David McVicar's imposing but imperfect version of an epic, 10 Oct. 2013
This review is from: Les Troyens (ROH) [Anna Caterina Antonacci, Bryan Hymel, Eva-Maria Westbroek] [Opus Arte: OABD7113D] [Blu-ray] [NTSC] [Region Free] (Blu-ray)
Berlioz never saw his epic creation performed in full during his lifetime, but we now have Blu-ray releases of no less than three complete productions of Les Troyens to be able to judge the quality of the work. Previously we had the revelatory 2003 Châtelet production in Paris (in an impressive account conducted by John Eliot Gardiner) and the rather less successful attempt to modernise the opera by La Fura dels Baus in the 2009 Valencia production. A comparison between the two suggests that if it's not necessarily a case of less is more, it is nonetheless important to strike a balance that captures the extravagance and dynamic of the distinct styles of the two parts of the work while at the same time also living up to the epic grandeur that it represents. David McVicar therefore had quite a challenge in this new major production of the work for the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden, and while it didn't exactly meet with universal critical acclaim at the time, the weaknesses in the production seem rather less pronounced when viewed at home.

The fact that David McVicar and set designer Es Devlin go for their familiar industrial Steampunk style in the first act with weapons and military uniforms that are clearly not related to Ancient Greek setting is neither here nor there. As ever with McVicar, the detail is less important than the overall impact, and both the Troy and Carthage scenes aim for a mood and grandeur of scale that is commensurate with the work itself. The tone of the first half starts dark and gets darker still, the short-lived celebrations of the Trojans giving way to ceremonial mourning, followed by dire premonitions of doom from an increasingly hysterical Cassandra and concluding with the mass suicide of the Trojan women as the warriors flee for Italy, the city having been breached by the Greek soldiers through the ruse of the horse. It's the huge mechanical construction of the Trojan Horse that is the imposing image of the first half and it's suitably impressive. The direction is fairly static in this section, but it gives room to appreciate the magnificent musical construction of the first two acts, and allows Anna Caterina Antonacci to dominate as Cassandra.

The warmth of tone and presentation of the Trojans in Carthage section is in marked contrast to the darkness of the first half, but Berlioz's arrangements are no less epic in his depiction of the utopian society of Carthage under the rule of their beloved Queen Dido. Even Bryan Hymel, who doesn't quite manage to rise above the dramatic power of the Troy section as Aeneas, seems to find the North African climate more to his liking. The challenges of the second half of Les Troyens however lie in the presentation of those sentiments, and that isn't quite so well achieved as the first half. While there's much that's beautiful about Berlioz's scoring for these scenes, all the ballets and the celebratory love-fests can however be a little bit too much. McVicar and designer Es Devlin's at least achieve all the epic grandeur and warmth for Carthage that is suggested in the score, but they can't find any way to make the longeurs in Act III sufficiently interesting. There is however still a lot to enjoy musically and in the singing during the final three acts and it's all superbly put across by the Royal Opera House Orchestra under Antonio Pappano's direction.

As Dido, Eva-Maria Westbroek sings beautifully and is excellent at conveying the dilemma of the Carthaginian Queen over her feelings for Aeneas and her promise to remain faithful to the memory of her dead husband. Westbroek has a fullness of tone and sufficient power in her soprano, but not quite the necessary colour that you would normally get from a mezzo-soprano in the role. This is particularly noticeable for the lack of sufficient and complementary contrast that ought to be there in her 'Nuit d'ivresse et d'extase infinie' duet with Hymel - a key moment in their relationship which never really comes across here as it should. There are also some beautiful sounds coming here from Brindley Sherratt's concerned Narbal and Hanna Hipp's devoted Anna, both providing the necessary counterweight to Dido's mental disintegration in the closing acts. Masterfully orchestrated in musical and dramatic terms by Berlioz, Hylas's song of longing for home at the beginning of Act Five is sweetly sung by Ed Lyon, combining well with the act of betrayal between Dido and Aeneas that is more convincing than their romance. It ensures that the conclusion at least is sufficiently tragic.

The Royal Opera House's Les Troyens is handsomely packaged for its 2-disc Blu-ray release. The two discs are contained in a digipak that is slipcased with a large booklet with several programme-length articles and a full detailed synopsis by David McVicar. The four and a half hour opera is evenly divided across the two discs, not according to the two distinct parts. Disc One has the first three Acts, which takes in Fall of Troy (Act I and II) the first act of The Trojans in Carthage (Act III). Disc Two has the final two Acts (IV and V). Antonio Pappano provides introductions at the start of the opera and during the 'interval' sections (Before Act III and before Act V). The opera can be played with these introductions included or without. There is also a featurette that looks at Es Devlin's set designs, an excerpt from Pappano's 'Insights' look at the opera and a Cast Gallery. The BD is all-region, subtitles are in English, French, German, Spanish, Japanese and Korean.
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Showing 1-3 of 3 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 12 Oct 2013 10:23:27 BDT
Thank you for your excelent review. You mention your copy comes in a slipcased digipack, but Amazon shows a picture of what looks like an ordinary bluray case. You know if there are two different editions?

In reply to an earlier post on 12 Oct 2013 19:41:17 BDT
Keris Nine says:
I don't know if there's more than one edition, but I don't think so. I suspect the Amazon image is just a mocked-up cover to show clearly that it is the Blu-ray edition. I don't think you could get the 2 discs and the large multi-lingual booklet into a standard BD case.

In reply to an earlier post on 13 Oct 2013 10:10:36 BDT
I guess you are right. Thank you again.
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