Les Troyens -- a long, but great watch

BY RICHARD JOHNSON Observer senior reporter johnsonr@jamaicaobserver.com

Thursday, January 10, 2013

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THE diversity of the New York-based Metropolitan Opera's 2012-2013 season is proving to be its drawing card.

At each showing of the Live in HD series, it becomes clear why in times of recession and austerity, the Met continues to survive.

On Saturday, movie theatres worldwide including the Carib in St Andrew, Jamaica, were treated to the Met's production of Berlioz's Les Troyens.

Firstly, this was a long production.

In creating this epic drama, Berlioz left nothing to chance, sharing every aspect of this story. As a result, Les Troyens comes out at 300 minutes... a quick calculation will see this rounding off to a total of five hours.

While grand and epic, and punctuated by two intermissions of 20 and 10 minutes, it is still a production that feels long.

Although it is for emphasis, some scenes seem over-extended. However, once the production gets moving, it becomes a joy to experience.

Les Troyens's beauty lies in the layering and inter-connectivity of the stories.

Acts I and II tell the story of Troy's invasion by the Greeks via the Trojan Horse. The fall of Troy had been predicted by the prophetess Cassandra (played stunningly by Deborah Voight) but falling on deaf ears.

With defeat at hand, Cassandra and the womenfolk of Troy commit mass suicide while warrior Aeneas (Bryan Hymel in his Met debut) flees to build a new Troy.

The scenes of death and destruction shift dramatically in Acts III and IV.

The death and carnage in Troy give way to the peace and tranquility of Carthage, where Aeneas and his men have sought refuge.

The serene Carthage is ruled by the dowager queen Dido (Susan Graham), who later falls for Aeneas.

This is not to last and by Act V the story shifts resulting in the dramatic and tragic conclusion to this epic.

This Berlioz work stands out on many levels. Of all the operas this season, it is the one which features the most choral pieces.

This Met chorus, which numbers well over 100, bears the lion's share of the vocal work in this production. Despite the presence of stunning arias -- Aeneas' ode to love at the end of
Act IV is breathtaking, resulting in spontaneous applause from the audience inside the Met auditorium as well as the Carib in Kingston.

Graham as Dido is the production's standout. Her sharp shift from the regal queen to a woman scorned is great to watch.

Les Troyens is also one of the few operas sung in French this season. So far, the Met's productions have been delivered in Italian and English.

Three hundred minutes after the overture, Les Troyens is truly epic and another great watch this season.




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