, November 2010
Fanfare’s resident Berlioz maven, Adrian Corleonis, cautiously welcomed the DVD release of this production back in 2005 (Fanfare 28:4). He was especially impressed by the sonics: “in mere stereo the sonic grasp of these DVDs is an encompassing marvel of detailed spaciousness, rendering Les Troyens’ sweep, its epic grandeur, and its intimate moments with equal brilliance.” And that’s even more true in DTS surround, on this new Blu-ray version.
He wasn’t particularly impressed by Gregory Kunde’s Aeneas nor Susan Graham’s Dido, both of whom, he rightly observed, lack authority in their stage presence and vocal delivery (to me, they are not poor, but they’re not as good as they should be, although Graham does improve toward the end). Otherwise, we agree that the casting is generally fine to superb: “The strongest acting and the surest, sheerest vocalism belongs to Anna Caterina Antonacci’s Cassandra, though one must immediately accord kudos to her partner, the Coroebus of Ludovic Tézier. Their duet, which too often drags and sputters in other performances, here lifts into the stratosphere of the dramatically true and intensely moving. … The subsidiary roles, too, are all strongly cast.” Antonacci, in my opinion, is the real star on stage—not only a fabulous singer and good looker, but a performer who knows how to make Cassandra seem not the lunatic suicide cult leader she can be in other productions, but a clear-headed tragic heroine. The other star of this production does not appear on stage; he’s conductor John Eliot Gardiner, who, uniquely among early-music specialists, knows how to put across Romantic-era music. (He’s always approached the French Romantics with particular verve; his old recording of four Massenet orchestral suites remains the best they have received.) In my colleague’s words, “Gardiner’s direction is an incandescent arch radiant with poetry.” Richild Springer’s choreography, though, is a rickety bridge between vocal numbers; in act I it neatly emulates ancient Greek wrestling, but later it seems more like Isadora Duncan trying to emulate ancient Greek maidens, without much success.
The oddity here is an alternate, more elaborate ending, compiled by Hugh Macdonald from the composer’s sketches. It has no effect on the action, aside from introducting a quasi-supernatural element that the libretto otherwise eschews.
As far as I can tell, there’s no competition for this production on Blu-ray. There are DVD alternatives, though. Corleonis dismisses Sylvain Cambreling on Arthaus as weak in terms of singing and perverse production concept. But both of us do approve of the Levine/Met version on DG with Troyanos, Domingo, and Norman. Quoting my colleague: “Despite overupholstered costuming, occasionally dorky stage business, and clever staging often leaving Berlioz’s mise-en-scène in the lurch, the upshot, winged by sheer star power, is hugely whelming and deeply moving.” So if you’re of a traditionalist bent and not wedded to the most recent technology, you’ll probably want to stick with the DG. But the item under review is the only Blu-ray version available right now, and it looks and sounds gorgous—better, frankly, than the far less sharp DG. Despite the poor choreography and the adequate-but-no-better Aeneas (and, at times, Dido), I would not hesitate to press this upon collectors for its many other merits.