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Michael Scott Rohan
Gramophone, May 2013

Gardiner’s singers…could hardly be more committed. Anna Caterina Antonacci, Glyndebourne’s fiery Ermione in 1995, is an even more fiery Cassandra…Gregory Kunde…looks and acts pretty well, and brings a welcome bel canto touch to the gorgeous duet.

Other roles are generally excellent, especially Laurent Naouri’s Narbal, the Anna and Pantheus, and Mark Padmore’s lopas…The mostly youthful chorus sounds marvellous…

The magnificent high-definition recording does it ample sonic and visual justice. © 2013 Gramophone Read complete review on Gramophone

Penguin Guide, January 2009

In October 2003 John Eliot Gardiner with his Monteverdi Choir and the Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique had a great success when they visited Paris to give Berlioz’s epic opera in the relatively intimate Théâtre du Châtelet but, as the video shows, the stage production by Yannis Kokkos neatly achieves clarity and directness in the complex plot with an economical but effective staging. The first two Acts, covering the fall of Troy, have the darkest of settings, with costumes of unrelieved black, with an angled mirror giving one views from above as well as laterally. The performance gains from the fine singing in the central rôle of Cassandra of Anna Caterina Antonacci, then coming to the fore as a star of the future. Ludovic Tezier is also excellent as her lover, Chorebus, and the final chorus of Trojan women, led by Cassandra, brings a thrilling climax.

In Act III, ‘The Trojans in Carthage’, the set brings a complete contrast, light and airy and with bright colours. Again simplicity is the keynote, with spaciousness rather than crowded scenes; and again, surprisingly, it works well with the story clarified. [What is slightly disappointing is that the great love duet between Aeneas and Dido uses a set without any hint of foliage or any atmospheric background; but] the singing of Susan Graham as well as of Gregory Kunde as Aeneas is first rate. What is remarkable in an age of wobblers is that Gardiner has gathered a whole team of singers, most of them native French-speakers, with exceptionally well-focused voices. The final Act, of Aeneas’s departure and Dido’s death, brings a return of the angled mirror, with Aeneas’s feet represented by model ships floating in the air…Altogether a preferable video presentation, with its period instruments and excellent cast, to the Salzburg Festival DVD of the opera.

Tony Haywood
MusicWeb International, November 2004

"This lavish production, mounted at the Châtelet in Paris to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Berlioz’s birth, must have been eagerly awaited by fans of the composer. For those of us not fortunate enough to see it in the flesh, the handsome three disc DVD set from the ever reliable BBC Opus Arte makes up for the disappointment. Picture and sound quality are superb, with sensitive TV direction from Peter Maniura capturing faithfully the epic yet suitably modernist staging by veteran Yannis Kokkos, Greek-born but resident in Paris for some thirty years now.

In the pit we have our own John Eliot Gardiner, so both fans and detractors will probably know what to expect. Tempi are swift and rhythmic control clam tight – no bad thing in an opera that can seem, especially in a complete four-hour-plus production like this, diffuse in structure and slightly long-winded in places. As no great expert on the piece, I find it a credit to Gardiner and his period forces that I was never bored, indeed quite often found myself marvelling at the orchestral detail and originality of the scoring. Examples abound throughout, but I was particularly impressed by passages such as Aeneas’s Laocoon scene in Act 1, where the low brass snarl away menacingly on the word ‘serpent’. Gardiner also has the luxury of period saxhorns in his band, here loaned from a private collection, rasping excitingly though the texture in the famous Royal Hunt and Storm scene; the director makes sure we’re aware by homing in on them repeatedly, but one can’t blame him. Strings are lithe and supple, easily able to cope with the composer’s syncopations and rhythmic complexities. It’s really thrilling to hear the opera underpinned like this, rather than with a rich, velvety carpet of plushness. It also means that the singers are never drowned out, and balance between stage and pit is as good as I’ve ever heard.

Luckily for us, the singers match the commitment of the orchestra with performances that are both wonderful to listen to and convincing to watch. The impassioned, fiery Cassandra of Anna Caterina Antonacci dominates Act 1, and her doomed prophetess is a thrilling creation, gorgeously classical-looking in her flowing white gown. She grows ever more agitated as the people of Troy welcome the famous horse; wisely staged with just the head projected onto the backdrop, as in the above reproduction. The scene where she convinces the women to kill themselves rather than submit to slavery or worse is truly gripping. She is well matched by Ludovic Tezier as her lover Choroebus, their lyrical duet one of the many high points of the production.

The rest of the opera is dominated by the serene, dignified Dido of Susan Graham and the gritty, heroic Aeneas of Gregory Kunde. Graham’s youthful Queen, so effortlessly lyrical, is a joy to behold, with acting and singing of the highest calibre. Kunde makes Aeneas a gritty, headstrong soldier, his rounded tenor ringing out in thrilling Jon Vickers-like fashion. Their rapport is obvious in the great starlit duet that ends Act 4, Kunde lightening his tone for the two voices to mesh like the lovers. Dido’s death scene is genuinely moving, all the more so for being staged so simply.

There are other notable contributions, particularly the Narbal of Laurent Naouri, a singer last seen on DVD as an excellent Escamillo on Opus Arte’s Glyndebourne Carmen. Mention must be made also of the chorus; Berlioz, like Mussorgsky, gives them a key role in the action, and the youthful Châtelet chorus, supplemented by Gardiner’s crack Monteverdi Choir, is one of the glories of the production.

The direction of Yannis Kokkos, who also designed costumes and set, leaves plenty of room for the singers to act. Most of the key set-pieces are on a fairly bare stage, though the sense of spectacle is provided by a huge mirrored backdrop which tilts and slides as required. This clever device is able to reflect the stage floor, thus showing us a huge Renaissance cityscape for Troy, as well as making the stage seem twice as big at important moments: crowd scenes, invading soldiers etc. It is also mightily useful for the projection of images, such as the above-mentioned horse’s head, and the scene where Hector’s spirit talks to Aeneas at the start of Act 2. It is a hugely imaginative, expensive-looking piece of kit which never invades the intimacy yet gives the audience its share of thrills. Costumes are of the flowing, timeless sort, though the Greek army looks uncomfortably like a group of American GIs, possibly the only political statement in the production.

This is a revelatory set, both musically and visually. It runs to three discs, but there is an excellent extra in the form of an hour-long documentary by Reiner Moritz entitled 'The Trojans: A Masterpiece Revived', in which all the major players get the chance to give us their take on the opera. As with the Glyndebourne Carmen, Opus Arte has given us a memento of a great production. Even though the DVD competition is limited, it is hard to imagine it being bettered."

Robert Cummings
Classical Net, November 2004

"As I write this notice, reviews on this Les Troyens are still coming in, all so far lavishing it with high praise. I’ll add my kudos now, too. In virtually every respect this Opus Arte DVD is a grand success from the singing, both by the soloists and the chorus, to the conducting of Sir John Eliot Gardiner and playing by his spirited orchestra, to the stage production, including both the sets and costuming, as well as the choreography in the ballet sequences. The film work, captured, you’ll notice from the headnote, in High Definition mode, is masterfully done, too.

Susan Graham is a fine Didon, both vocally and dramatically. She seems to effortlessly convey regality in her movements and gestures, and her singing is divine. Anna Caterina Antonacci is also splendid as Cassandre, and one can safely predict a highly successful career for her. But the other principals in the cast are convincing, too: Gregory Kunde as Éneé and Renata Pokupic as Anna in particular stand out. Perhaps the question under review here, however, relates more to the opera’s artistic worth than to the performance.

Berlioz was called a ‘genius without talent’ by Mendelssohn, and while that assessment is clearly harsh, it is not without some merit. Les Troyens, viewed by many as the composer’s greatest opera, is a work that still can fuel controversy about Berlioz’ artistic standing. Indeed, it is a work about which one might opine, ‘a great opera, warts and all’. It is

long and unwieldy, beautiful but frustrating at times, and magnificent, if a bit overly ambitious. But then, one might express similar criticism about certain Wagner operas, if I might risk heresy, or about Prokofiev’s inspiring and majestic War and Peace. In any work of four hours or more, one is bound to find more than a few details to quibble about.

But Les Troyens holds together very well in this production and should please even the composer’s detractorsa good many of them, anyway. In the end then, Berlioz’ Les Troyens, extravagant though it may be in some respects, must be judged an artistic success, especially as presented here. Dare one call this DVD definitive? I think so, at least for now. As suggested above, the sound is excellent. Highly recommended."

Scott Morrison, October 2004

"5/5 stars

Berlioz's Masterpiece in a Stunning Production

'Virgil shakespearized' -- Berlioz describing 'Les Troyens'

I agree with everything already said here by reviewer T.C. and just wanted to add a few comments. I have been unable to find any weaknesses in this DVD of a live performance at the Théâtre du Châtelet, Paris, in October 2003, in celebration of the 200th anniversary of Berlioz' birth. From a technical standpoint the sound, lighting, stage set, costumes, stage action are simply above criticism. It is hard to imagine singers better suited to this so human, so universal opera. Susan Graham is in glorious voice and rises to the challenge in the final scene ('Je vais mourir,' 'Adieu, fière cité') with acting worthy of Broadway or the West End. One simply can't take one's eyes off her. Gregory Kunde, an American tenor best-known for bel canto and lyric tenor rôles, sings a lyrical Aeneas while not sacrificing the heroic quality so needed for the part. I cannot remember ever hearing a more ravishing account of 'Nuit d'ivresse et d'extase infinie,' the duet of Dido and Aeneas in Act IV. His ease of production allows him to negotiate its high tessitura and yet blend his voice with that of Graham's Dido as I've never heard it. Add to this their ecstatic acting and you have one of the highlights of any filmed opera scene ever recorded. I get goosebumps just thinking about it.

Anna Caterina Antonacci's Cassandra in Acts I and II is of equal power and impact. I'd never heard of her before, but you can be sure I'll be watching for other things of hers. She is a beautiful woman, a powerful actress, has a gloriously rich voice and when she returns, in a coup de théâtre, as Clio in the final Act V tableau to utter 'Fuit Ilium. Stat Roma' ('What once was Troy is now Rome.') there were goosebumps again. [This slightly truncated scene, by the way, is not how the piece is usually ended, but Gardiner and his colleagues cite, in an included marvelous 'extra' hour-long documentary about this production, precedent for this revised ending, I was convinced of its rightness.]

There is not a weak singer among the secondary roles. I would like to single out Ludovic Tézier (Chorébe), Laurent Naouri (Narbal), Stéphanie d'Oustrac (Ascagne), and Renata Pokupic (Anna) for special praise. Singing one of the most beautiful arias in all of opera, Hylas's 'Vallon sonore,' the song of the homesick sailor that begins Act V, is a wonderful young lyric tenor, Topi Lehtipuu.

John Eliot Gardiner has long been known as a fine Berlioz conductor. His original-instrument Orchestra Révolutionnaire et Romantique (which here uses Berlioz's original orchestration including saxhorns) plays with clarity, grace and lightness, but is able to provide the pomp and ceremony in the martial, minatory and celebratory scenes. The 'Royal Hunt and Storm' is particularly fine, as is the recurring 'Trojan March.' The combined singers of Gardiner's Monteverdi Chorus and the chorus of the Châtelet not only sing with wonderful precision and diction, they also display ingeniously individualized acting. Yannis Kokkos's set design, costumes and stage direction are stunning. I still don't know how he managed what appears to be a mirror-image upstage that often shows us the backs of the actors, but often can be seen to be showing action interesting but different from the downstage action. Is this back-projection? I don't know, but whatever it is, it is hugely effective.

I have not seen the two other DVDs of 'Les Troyens.' I can easily imagine that they must be fine. This one, which emphasizes, partly because of the small size of the Châtelet, the human side of the opera, will satisfy me for a long time to come I suspect.

Urgently recommended."

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