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TOP 100 REVIEWERon 27 August 2012
I was at first inclined to award this recording four stars on account of some reservations about the singing but it is performed with such conviction and so much else is superlative that I relented. Nonetheless, it is a central fact that good as the principals are, they are not necessarily a match for some illustrious predecessors. Michelle de Young, in particular, impassioned and involved as she is, does not have a truly distinguished, "queenly" voice of the kind Janet Baker and Josephine Veasey brought to this role and her vibrato tends to become obtrusive at times. Occasionally her French vowels become too dark and occluded where clarity and incisiveness are required; nonetheless, she really comes alive in the dramatic recitative "Dieux immortels" just before her lament "Je vais mourir" where she rises to the moment despite the occasional passing uncertainty in pitch. Her timbre is perhaps too similar to that of the Cassandre, Petra Lang, who doesn't have a very full, steady or even attractive tone but is very expressive and clearly sings her heart out. Besides, Davis's Cassandre in the 1969 studio recording, Berit Lindholm, wasn't flawless either.

Ben Heppner almost makes light of the vicious tessitura of the role of Aeneas and as such ironically strips it of some of the heroic striving that Jon Vickers' more effortful delivery brought to it but as singing his account is terrific and he too comes alive in the scene where the ghosts exhort him to abandon Dido and head for Rome.

Some of the secondary roles are especially well sung, in particular Peter Mattei's elegant and incisive Chorèbe and Sara Mingardo's Anna - indeed the latter, with her full, dark steady production, sounds like a potential Dido herself if she could manage the tessitura. Both Kenneth Tarver and Toby Spence make much of their beautiful tenor solos. Stephen Milling's Narbal is imposing but a bit lumpy compared with Gwynne Howell in the superb extracts conducted by Sir Alexander Gibson with a cast headed by Janet Baker.

The choir sounds a bit small but they are energetic. There is a case for naming the LSO as the stars of this recording; their playing is everything you could wish. Davis's conducting is taut and dramatic in the extreme - and we don't hear too much of his vocalising which has become such an intrusive mannerism in recent years.

Was there ever a more varied and inventive orchestrator than Berlioz? Davis makes us aware of how there is always something new and enticing going on in instrumentally under the vocal lines and the orchestral set pieces are stunning. The sound is first rate with excellent balance and clarity and hardly any audience noise. I retain the impression that the best music is in the second half of an opera. The Trojan first part is necessarily more jagged and violent apart from interludes such as the lovely duet between Cassandre and Chorèbe whereas the Carthage action contains more which is lyrical or reflective. The opera is sometimes divided in two to be presented in two-hourly instalments over two evenings but it's great to have the whole thing in it entire sweep.

My ultimate allegiance is still with the older recording but I am glad to have both and this LSO Live set is excellent both artistically and as a bargain.
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on 29 June 2002
1) 5 stars for being the greatest bargain in the CD catalogue.
2) 5 stars for the absolutely outstanding quality of the gorgeous recorded sound and the inclusion of a libretto.
3) 5 stars for the extraordinarily alive, alert, active, sensitive, passionate playing of the LSO!
4) 5 stars for Sir Colin Davis for conducting such a thrilling, tender, beautiful and moving performance.
5) 5 stars for the virtuosic efforts of the singers. Heppner, especially is wonderfully dramatic and tender when necessary. And Petra Lang as Cassandra is OUTSTANDING. But the other singers all contribute at the highest level. Even Hylas' little song at the opening of Act V is handled with sensitivity and feeling by Toby Spence.
6) 5 stars, and worth the price of the entire set, for the last 20 minutes of Act IV, with the quintet, septet and duet sung with OUTRAGEOUS beauty, especially the little coda between Dido and Aeneas at the conclusion of 'Nuit d'ivresse...'. Oh wow.
7) Finally, 5 stars for LSO Live, for releasing such a quality performance, with the highest production values, at such a great price.
P.S----5 stars for Berlioz for writing such a monumental opera and then filling it with such detail and humanity.
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on 14 March 2014
Apart from the Royal Hunt and Storm I knew nothing of this music when I bought it, but i have such a strong affection for other Berlioz works that I have always thought it my duty to tackle Les Troyens. I should also state that I came from a month of listening to almost nothing but Wagner. I was surprised to find how much of this work seems like pretty standard Grand Opera fare, despite the evidence that the composer knew only too well that he had next to no chance of hearing a performance which would do justice to his inspiration. It makes sad reading to follow the tribulations he suffered in his efforts to have the work performed I think what I missed was the moments of blazing inspiration of which Berlioz was capable. All the foregoing is subjective and unfair. This is primarily a lyrical work, with moments of excitement, but it will take time and repeated hearings for the true value to sink in. So dont expect the frenzy of the Symphonie Fantastique, or the fizz of Carnaval Romain, this is music which has to become familiar to be appreciated, and no doubt will bring many years enjoyment.
The performance and recording seem immaculate, and the booklet contains the libretto (in a very small typeface). It is a very long work in two almost distinct parts,and I recommend playing each act several times before moving onto the next, this will give you a better understanding of characters, plot and the style of the music.
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VINE VOICETOP 500 REVIEWERon 14 December 2008
On one level, I find it easier than I often do to account simply for the rating I have given this set. All the orchestral work is superb, so is the recording and so is most of the vocal work, but three factors prevent me from awarding the fifth star. First and most important, Michelle DeYoung in the crucial role of Dido is much the weakest member of the cast. Her pitch is rather there-or-thereabouts and I'm not convinced either that she has quite the stature for this tragic queen of all tragic queens. In the second place the voice of Isabelle Cais is surely just not right for the boy Ascanius. Third - and here is where the issue stops being so simple - Ben Heppner is not my own idea of an exact match for Aeneas, and I shall try to explain why not.

Les Troyens in my view is opera and not music-drama in Wagner's sense. Music-drama first dawned on an astonished world with the mighty opening measures of Das Rheingold. The theme of Les Troyens is crying out for the music-drama treatment, but with its recitatives, arias, duets, ensembles, choruses and instrumental interludes it is as surely opera as anything by Berlioz's revered Gluck or even his detested Handel. This makes it difficult in the extreme for the singer cast as Aeneas to suggest his role as the agent, and indeed tool, of epic destiny when he is mainly seen as a fugitive and lover. Heppner possesses a heroic tone, but the hero he succeeds in sounding like is Radames. It is hard to avoid sounding like this as Berlioz's idiom, like Verdi's and unlike Wagner's, is lyrical even at its post powerful, but any Aeneas who sounds less of a Heldentenor than I would want to hear as Siegfried is not my Aeneas.

Another mountain that the operatic idiom gives the director and the Dido and Aeneas to climb is making the story coherent. Complete success in this matter is, I guess, impossible for any interpreters simply because Berlioz's libretto is not coherent. As I say, it demands music-drama. Treated as opera, the story of the fall of Troy requires a heroine, and Virgil has neglected to provide one, so Berlioz concocts a heroine's role around the prophetess Cassandra. This works well enough to start with, and Cassandra's interactions with her betrothed Corebus are fine and indeed excellent in their own right. This however turns them inevitably into heroine and hero, so that the late supervention of Aeneas is awkward. The listener needs to supply a good deal of background knowledge of Virgil's story, and in particular the director requires the ultimate in tact when dealing with Berlioz's attempts to keep the `Italian destiny' motif suggested somehow. This is first proclaimed by the ghost of Hector - all well and good so far, even when it is echoed by Cassandra although neither she nor Hector is likely ever to have heard of Italy. However it is in danger of descending into the downright ridiculous when the incantation `Italy' is given to a motley assortment of naiads and the god Mercury who intrude with plonking inappropriateness like touring football supporters chanting the name of their national team. In fact Davis handles the matter very delicately as you would expect, but the synopsis does not help by telling us how `Dido and Aeneas...take refuge in a cave and there acknowledge and consummate their love, while satyrs and wood-nymphs utter cries of `Italy'. I was ashamed for a moment of my own guffaws at this, but shame itself was annihilated when I turned over the page to see a most unflattering picture of Heppner making him look like Captain Mainwaring from Dad's Army, so that what was most consummated for me was my own mirth and hilarity. In fact the two principals handle their love duet very well, but if there is any totally successful way of combining Aeneas's role as lover with his fate-assigned role I did not hear it here. How much better Purcell and his librettist dealt with the whole matter using their minuscule musical resources two centuries earlier.

One thing that seems to me absolutely right in this production is that Les Troyens is treated as one work and not as two. It is not coherent as one work, but it is not coherent as two either, so give it as the composer intended. This performance lasts more or less exactly four hours, which is not much longer than Tristan and probably less than Goetterdaemmerung. Listened to simply as music it is absolutely marvellous music. Was there ever, in the whole glorious history of European music, a finer orchestrator than Berlioz? I was thrilled by the tone of the woodwind in the first bar, and I was thrilled by every department of the LSO, even by Mercury's gong, from start to finish. I should also put in a word of praise for the chorus. How much better Berlioz's choral writing, like Weber's before him, was than Wagner's. Having criticised three of the singers in varying degrees, let me now say how delighted I was by the rest of the cast. Apart from Dido and Aeneas, the biggest roles are those of Cassandra and Anna, so let the trumpets sound for Petra Lang and Sara Mingardo. I shall add, having derided the synopsis in one respect, that there is an absolutely lovely and endearing photo of Petra Lang singing her heart out. Special mention should go to the tenors Kenneth Tarber and Toby Spence as the minstrels, and I expect their heavenly songs inspired Tchaikovsky to a similar effort in Eugene Onegin.

The liner is all it should be, with the text in French and English only, and notes and synopsis by the eminent Berliozian David Cairns. Cairns finds more lofty symbolism than I do, but he might be right about that, and his notes are instinct with love of the composer. Recommended, reservations notwithstanding.
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on 28 January 2009
This largely praiseworthy production has been let down by certain stylistic aspects of performance--those where linguistic and musical matters impinge upon one another. Whilst Davis's mastery of Berlioz's strictly musical style is and has long been remarkable, it seems not to have extended to the choice of singers (in truth, he might have had little say in the casting). None of the singers of the leading parts is a native speaker of French. What is more important, few sing French even adequately. Petra Lang, it should be said, does an excellent job; she is by far the most gripping performer in a decidedly uneven cast. She alone is measurably superior to her opposite number (the exciting but overextended Berit Lindholm) in the earlier Davis recording. Michelle DeYoung undercharacterizes and has an undistinguished voice; she is no match for the alert and involved Josephine Veasey, who at times is almost as good as Baker or Crespin. Ben Heppner, as able as he is, cannot compare with the astonishing Jon Vickers (who is not even in best voice and is barely half as gripping as he was in the theater), nor for that matter with the best Énée of them all, Georges Thill (Les Introuvables du Chant Français, where excerpts from the role can be found, along with many other treasures from the long-past glory days of French singing). Attention is repeatedly, albeit fairly, drawn to Vickers's odd vowels, yet he always sounds as if he's singing French, however eccentrically, and he is alive to every facet of character and every word's implication. His musical and dramatic instincts are a marvel to behold.

From the frequent thinness of their tone, one might reasonably suppose that the LSO Chorus is largely made up of twenty-somethings; their French pronunciation, whilst no more than adequate, is, however, no worse than what one typically hears at Covent Garden or the Metropolitan Opera. Yet the chorus of the Royal Opera House on the earlier set sounds far better rehearsed and sings with appropriate weight and fully supported tone when those qualities are required. The LSO itself is extremely fine--splendid in fact--but in truth so is the ROH orchestra. A choice between them is a matter less of fact than of sentiment. The same holds true for Davis's interpretation. The newer reading is generally a bit swifter and lighter, but both are clearly products of the same re-creative sensibility.

So far as the actual sound is concerned, this recording is clearly superior to all its predecessors, but only a sonic voluptuary would consider the edge sufficient for a verdict in its favor. In sum, while this is a performance that must have been exciting on the night itself, it is not something for the many nights and days ahead. Should you buy both Davis recordings, as I and many others have, it's the newer one that will probably collect dust a good deal faster.
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on 22 June 2013
A long run for following dramatic story,could tell a long story about what is common known as a legend,and period
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on 3 October 2017
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on 28 January 2012
I have now heard three recordings of this wonderful work and this leads the others by a considerable margin, despite a few weaknesses in the casting.I cannot believe that it is live and could kick myself for not going to see it at the Barbican.The opening scenes are among the most exciting I have heard in a long time and the singing of the Cassandra is just electrifying in its intensity, matched by that of Peter Mattei (what artists).Ben Hepper exceeds my wildest expectations as Aeneas and is better in my view that the more mannered singing of John Vickers in the earlier Philips set. My biggest reservation among the singers is the Dido of Michel DeYoung,just does not do it for me,however in the final scenes she does come to life. Veasey in the earlier set and Pollet in the Detoit version are both better. Despite this I still give this set five stars.
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on 20 July 2016
A brilliant recording of a magnificent opera.
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on 13 August 2016
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