on 10 July 2011
This is, unfortunately, a disappointment, mainly because of staging. From the musical point of view, the performance is not bad, though less splendid performances than Gardiner 2003 from Paris. The Valencia Orchestra plays beautifully for Valery Gergiev. Elizabeth Matos is a good Cassandra; Danielle Barcelona is a good Dido. Lance Ryan who has a big voice, sings Aeneas, but his performance lacks subtlety and his diction in French is poor. Singers for the secondary roles are adequate to good.
The staging was made by La Fura dels Baus. I loved their "Damnation de Faust" for the Salzburg Festival 1999, and their staging for the Valencia Ring is impressive. But directing here is in my opinion a big missed opportunity. The opera takes place here in a futuristic world like "Star Wars". For my taste, it doesn't work. Costumes are ridiculous and ugly. Poor Danielle Barcelona. She is a wonderful singer. How they managed to disfigure her here. Dressed her in an awkward sort of kimono, and her head is covered with an ugly wig. She looks ridiculous, like a caricature of the Mikado in the famous Gilbert and Sullivan operetta of... A sad joke
And the direction succeeds in spoiling all the great moments of opera. The mass suicide of Cassandra and the women, one of the highlights of the opera, then entirely not effective here, as it happens behind the heavy curtain and a strong red background, that barely lets see. Another highlight of the opera, the great duet for Dido and Aeneas at the end of the fourth act, is destroyed by the director that chooses to put the two singers on a basket suspended in the air as they sing a passionate love duet, when there is no eye contact between them at all... etc. ...
The Gardiner 2003 performance is currently the best available on DVD and Blu-ray.
on 23 June 2011
Berlioz's Les Troyens is one of the greatest and most beautiful operas ever written. Musically, it is very well served in this blu-ray from Valencia. Valery Gergiev deserves plaudits for his marvelous conducting of this sprawling score. He has at his disposal a virtuoso orchestra, outstanding chorus and soloists and they serve him and Berlioz well. Pre-eminent is Italian mezzo Daniela Barcellona as Didon. Her ample, lustruous voice fills the part in ways that reminds one of its previous big voiced great exponents such as Christa Ludwig and Jessye Norman. One could think of more polished tenors as Aenée than Lance Ryan, but he fits the part ably if shy of outstandingly. Then there is the marvelous work by the Portuguese soprano Elisabete Matos as Cassandre, a strong dramatic voice I did not know until now; I hope to encounter it again. In short, musically this is a splendid reading and were one watching with one's eyes closed, it would be a marvelous recording in vivid surround-sound.
I thoroughly admired the work that Carlus Padrissa and La Fura dels Baus did for Wagner's Ring also in Valencia. Indeed, for me those performances constitute the most satisfying filmed Ring so far, musically and visually, and the production,even if unconventional, always illuminating text and music. With Les Troyens, they totally missed the boat. They set the opera in what perhaps can be considered mythical cyberspace. Troy is dark, and the Trojans are dressed in what look like hockey uniforms (what is usually presented as dance, here becomes a boxing match with ropes and rounds cards). When the opera shifts from tragic Troy to sunny, happy Carthage, what we are given is the claustrophobic insides of what looks like a cyclotron, and the costumes get even more nonsensical, incorporating computer screens. All of this absurdity enlightens nothing, calls attention to itself, and fights some of the most beautiful music ever written for the operatic stage. I felt like giving the disc only one star or none given how inimical to the work the staging feels. I gave it two stars because the musical values are so strong. I wound up repeating the second Carthage act from the Royal Hunt and Storm to the end just to hear the ecstatically beautiful music, this time with my eyes closed. Yes, it is very well performed once you shut your eyes.
The worse aspect of the Valencia production is that for any lover of Les Troyens you sense a most disturbing tension: warfare between the mise-en-scene and the score it is supposed to serve. It's almost offensive in the disregard shown text and music.
So ... caveat emptor. If you want a very well performed Troyens that does not visually offend, though with perhaps less of the musical, modern orchestra impact encountered here, I recommend the one from the Chatelet conducted by John Eliot Gardiner with a beautifully sung Didon: Susan Graham. The orchestra performs in period instruments.
on 24 June 2011
I had high hopes for this performance after the same team's remarkable production of Wagner's Ring cycle. My viewing experience began unhelpfully in being unable to access the subtitles. But worse was to come in viewing the absurdities of the stage action. It would take a major essay to detail the many objectionable and ridiculous aspects of this production. I will describe a few to give the reader an idea of what is to be seen.
In the first act Cassandra is wheeled about in a wheelchair, seemingly disabled. On occasions she miraculously gets out of the wheelchair and walks around the stage with great ease. In the fourth act Didon is fitted out in a Minnie Mouse type wig making her look totally ridiculous. The costuming in general is a mixture of Star Wars futurism mixed with what seems like baseball uniforms and various other nonsensical getups. In the third act the action seems to be taking place within a computer, some of the chorus are dressed as computer chips and there seem to be representations of Trojan viruses. How clever!
The jewel of the opera is the fourth act ballet and love scene. This is totally mangled with the lovers suspended and hardly making eye contact. Aspects of the ballet scene, where the dancers perform in simple costumes and without distracting projections and scenery, is one of the rare moments of satisfaction.
In the face of all these directoral horrors, even the greatest musical values would be overwhelmed. As it is the orchestra play splendidly under the expert direction of Valery Gergiev. The singing in general is of a reasonable if hardly exceptional standard. Lance Ryan sounds strained on occasions and his french diction is hardly perfect.
It is a relief to return to the magnificent Gardiner / Chatalet version of this opera to realise what a simple, intelligently thought out production can achieve. The singing here is also vastly more satisfying. As we say in Australia, and I mean no disrespect to the noble canine species, this DVD is a real dog. I would avoid it at all costs.