Berlioz's epic two-part opera, Les Troyens (The Trojans) is always a major event. The composer himself never saw it performed in its entirety and, running for more than four hours, it demands huge musical forces (including six harps) and, in the opera house, a staging that can do justice to the story of the Greek army's capture of Troy and the subsequent encounter of the Greek hero Aeneas and Dido, Queen of Carthage.
This new Erato recording of the complete, uncut score of Les Troyens (available from 24 November 2017 on 0190295762209, 4 CDs + 1 DVD, also available for download and streaming) is drawn from two concert performances that took place over the Easter weekend in April 2017 in the city of Strasbourg in eastern France. A magnificent cast of singers, predominantly Francophone, assembled under the baton of John Nelson, an acknowledged master of Berlioz's music who has conducted Les Troyens more frequently than anyone else over a period of more than forty years; he made his name with the piece when he led performances at New York's Metropolitan Opera in 1974, and enjoyed great acclaim for a production at the Frankfurt Opera shortly before the Strasbourg concerts.
Taking the three central roles were Marie-Nicole Lemieux as Cassandre, Michael Spyres as Énée and, in her debut as Didon, Joyce DiDonato. The Orchestre Philharmonique de Strasbourg (praised by John Nelson for combining 'Germanic discipline with the élan and beauty of the French sound') was complemented by the combined choruses of the Opéra National du Rhin, the Philharmonique de Strasbourg and the Badischer Staatsopernchor. With the total number of performers on the stage of the Salle Érasme at nearly two-hundred-and-fifty, it is hardly surprising that Forum Opéra described Les Troyens as 'the musical event of the year'.
As Forum Opéra also wrote: 'It would be hard to imagine a better cast', while the critic of Die Welt wrote of a 'gourmet cast' that featured such French singers as mezzo-soprano Marianne Crebassa (as Ascagne), tenors Stanislas de Barbeyrac (Hélènus, Hylas) and Cyrille Dubois (Iopas), baritone Stéphane Degout (Chorèbe), and basses Nicolas Courjal (Narbal) and Jean Teitgen (Ombre d'Hector, Mercure). Among the other singers were the Polish mezzo-soprano Hanna Hipp as Anna and the Canadian bass-baritone Philippe Sly as Panthée.
After the performances Joyce DiDonato said: 'It has been an absolute highlight of my musical life, and I am honoured to have been a part of this incredible team of orchestra, chorus and superlative soloists. This is a recording I will treasure - for the music-making and for the beautiful souvenirs of these days in Strasbourg.'
Alain Lanceron, president of Warner Classics & Erato, said: 'Recording Berlioz's Les Troyens is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. This monumental work, long considered unplayable, requires exceptional forces on all fronts: orchestra, choirs and numerous soloists, three of which take on the most demanding roles in French opera. The triumph of the concerts in Strasbourg promises a reference recording that will set a new landmark in the discography.'
'It was with great emotion that we at Erato witnessed pioneering Berlioz conductor John Nelson at the podium of a transcendent Philharmonique de Strasbourg and the combined choirs of the Opéra National du Rhin, the Philharmonique de Strasbourg and the Badischer Staatsopernchor. The all-star cast led by Joyce DiDonato, Marie-Nicole Lemieux and Michael Spyres - all three in major role debuts - was surrounded by the crème de la crème of unique talents in the French school of opera: a stellar line-up that has already entered the annals of history! We are grateful to all the musicians and the recording team for their commitment to this unforgettable adventure.'
The audience in Strasbourg greeted the performances with lengthy standing ovations. As predicted by Forum Opéra when the concerts were announced in 2016, this was 'The Troyens of the century'.
Posted: 22 October 2017
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