Lots of high points, a few lows
Scott Chamberlain | Minneapolis, MN United States | 10/16/2002
(4 out of 5 stars)
"I fell in love with the story of the Trojan War, even before I sold my soul to classical music. So naturally I was drawn to this production of "Les Troyens." And there are some astonishing moments here! Norman is wildly gripping in the part of Cassandra, totally dominating the stage and the first part of the opera. Domingo makes for a strong, masculine Aeneas, and although he had some doubts about singing the part, does a fine job with it. Troyanos is good, but not as blisteringly magnificent as Norman. I do have some problems with the staging, however. Right from the beginning, which should burst at the seems with wild excitement, we get the Trojans walking out, lining up, and declaiming that they are generally pleased the war is over. Um, couldn't they scurry, dance, hug...? The costumes seem to be of the historical epic type, but the er, "sets" are modernist symbolic. Is that the Trojan Horse they drag within the walls...? But don't get me wrong -- a solid production with some incredible singing, acting, and orchestral playing in a rich, fascinating opera that is too vast to be produced regularly. Very rewarding."
The Grand Opera
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I wasn't very sure if I would like this production, being one of the series of the dreadful Pioneer Classics. Their products of opera from the Met have always disappointed me. Well, this time I'm glad I bought it. The quality of picture isn't any better than the others made by Pioneer Classics, but, the sound quality is really good. Levine seems to be very much inspired and gives the most mesmerizing (or maybe "haunting" is the proper word) performance. The singers are all great. The decor and the costumes leave a lot to be desired, though, you can forgive that thanks to the fine musical performance. The ballet isn't that bad as other reviewers criticize. The acting is also okay, especially Jessy Norman gives a powerful performance. Domingo and Troyano's duet "Nuit d'amour et d'extase infinies" will melt your heart. The Royal Hunt and Storm is haunting. There are so many great tunes and lush music. What a great opera! This opera lasts more than 4 hours (253mins) and it's all on one side of DVD. The price is a real bargain compared to the CD recordings which are all on 4 separate discs. Even if the disc is produced by Pioneer Classics, it still deserves 5 stars for the mesmerizing performance and the great music."
Norman, Troyanos and Berlioz are superb!
Ivan Jorgensen | Rio de Janeiro | 03/25/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is the only video version of Berlioz's masterpiece, and I think it's one of the best performances from the MET series. Levine holds everything together admirably. The chorus is a bit variable, but acceptable. Norman is wonderful, she was born to play Cassandra. She acts impressively and sings with ease and drama. Domingo as Aeneas sounds tired, his voice is too light for this demanding role. From the very start, it's obvious. I think Domingo is great in roles like Alfredo, Riccardo ("Ballo") or Hoffman, not in parts like this. Troyanos as Dido is a marvel, frail yet powerful, moving in the last scenes. And she is physically appealing. Allan Monk is very well cast as Corebus, his beautiful voice fits the part like a glove. Douglas Ahlstedt and Phillip Creech deserve mention. The others sing well too. Perhaps Claudia Catania is a bit shrill, but she performs professionally. The production is very effective, and all the singers move well (though Domingo is a bit uncomfortable even in acting). Video is very good, especially in the love duet. Sound and camera work are first-rate. But, above all, the opera is outstanding, perhaps the gratest French opera ever, superbly orchestrated, touchingly lyrical and powerfully dramatic."
The most beautiful french opera.
Alain Blouin | Ste-Foy, Québec Canada | 09/28/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"When Berlioz chose to compose his last opera after Virgil's Aeneid, one of his goals was to compete with Wagner's then growing project: the now widely famous "Ring des Nibelungen". What came out of it is, to me, some of the most powerful and beautiful music ever composed. The strength and beauty of expression in this opera feels equal, if not superior, to that of Verdi's Otello, Strauss' Elektra, or Wagner's greatest works, and feels deeper than either. As Gluck's greatest supporter, Berlioz was the only one who could continue the operatic tradition of French mythological "lyrical tradedy". But "Les Troyens" is much more than a "nostalgia attack"; it is the apotheosis of a tradition, as well as a worthy contender against Wagner's system (which Berlioz judged useless and nonsensical). And it contains many moments of such beauty, of Virgilian pathos, that even a life-long wagnerite can appreciate.This can also be explained by Berlioz's tremendous personal involvement and thematical deepness. Its theme bears many similarities to Victor Hugo's "Les misérables"; except that in this case, the great force that drowns persons in misery is not society, but fate. Not "fate" as in "luck", but as the unstoppable advancement of humanity. Berlioz, in it, takes the side of all those peoples who have to suffer because of this "advancement". In the utter solitude he ended his life (his two wives and his only son being both dead, his music unpopular in Paris, and his best friend Liszt supporting Wagner), Berlioz had all the rights to feel as abandoned as his characters, and you feel it all throughout the work.Regarding the performers, Jessye Norman, as Cassandra, proves very convincing when it comes to portraying the prophetess who is the only one to know of Troy's misfortune, without being able to prevent it. She truly becomes this wretched victim who knows what will happen to her collapsing world when she sings her aria "Malheureux roi", or her subsequent, not-so-love duet with her lover Coroebus. However, her French diction leaves a bit to be desired, which may get annoying though not a big hindrance. Still, don't worry about it if your first language is not french, you'll probably only notice her wonderfully lyrical voice. The young Placido Domingo, as Aeneas, is also very believable as the young hero, son of Venus, who has an important mission to complete for the sake of his people. He looks both young and manly, and though he must lower the notes of a few of his interventions, his intense lyricism makes him very convincing, and allows some great musical moments. He gives an overall believable portrayal of the "pious Aeneas", burdened with his un-forfeitable mission, especially in his aria "Inutiles regrets", stunning in psychological insight; being given it is only then that you can see the man behind the hero. It is the only time where he is left to himself, and we finally fully see through him (for even when he chooses to live his love with Dido, his mission is unable to get off his mind. And Dido feels it, as it is shown in the beautiful love-duet "Nuit d'ivresse et d'extase").Tatiana Troyanos, as Dido, seems almost born for the role (just look at her last name!). She is both noble and full of dignity as a queen, and incredibly heart-rending as a rebellious victim of her love. Some other reviewers have said they would have preferred to hear Norman, but Troyanos' acting talents are so perfect, and her depiction of Dido's despair and vain opposition so moving that I don't think Norman could have done better. And, giving two such different characters the same face is nonsense. Troyanos is completely believable, from beginning to end. From the start, Aeneas and Dido knew their love was not made to work. They knew it, but they chose to live their love as much as they could, in open rebellion against the order of things. All of this can be read upon her face, during the final scene. The supporting cast gives, overall, a very good performance. Everyone does his/her best, and it is more than enough to breath life into Berlioz's wonderful score. Levine's conducting makes you feel both the nostalgia and distress of the whole work, and his orchestra envelops it in its epic aura.The staging, rather simple and un-colorful, only partially goes with Berlioz's original idea. The worst thing about it is when the Trojan horse enters Troy at the end of the first act: we only see its head making a circle around the stage. Also, in the middle of the opera, where instead of seeing a mob of peoples receiving golden tools in association with their respective duty, you see three dancers receiving geometric figures. However, this thing about the big crowns another reviewer talked about is grossly exaggerated. Overall, I'd say it is a sufficiently effective and sober production (and a very good staging, if you compare it to what Salzburg made of "La damnation de Faust").The sound on the one dvd is NTSC. The subtitles are only in English and the translation is merely functional. It's a bit of a problem if French is your first language (like me), since no one has a perfect diction. Having the libretto with you can come in handy. You can find it on the internet.Overall, though it is not the definitive version, it is the best right now. And, believe me, it's worth your money. As far as I'm concerned, it gives you all you could ask for in an opera. The music is so heart-wrenching that it makes my other opera dvds (which go from "L'Orfeo" to "Le dialogue des Carmélites") almost pale in comparison. Seriously, if catharsis is your thing, if crying is your thing, buy this dvd now. It is a great gift to give yourself, or any opera fan that thinks French opera is mainly about "Carmen", "Faust" and "Pelleas et Mélisande"."