It should be of no concern to this review why the conductor and the singer performing Narbal were not who was originally scheduled to perform. There is plenty reportage of this elsewhere. Anyone interested will know, and I was more concerned with the annoying distractions of the audience (some unavoidable with some of the audience members very old, and others which I had no idea what was going on) that affected the experience. It is what we see and hear on stage (and in this case around it) that matters.
So, the performance. It was generally magnificent thanks to the wonderful Monteverdi Choir and Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique here conducted by a very energic and enthused firecracker Dinis Sousa. He was at his best jumping up and down with excitement conducting the rousing big numbers that appear throughout Les Troyens, seemingly mouthing every word as the choristers and soloists veer from elegant, emotional, and at times mystical singing, to pretty wild near hysteria – but all perfectly controlled and intended, of course. As one great port city burned, we move to another young port city Catrhage, where the Phoenecians from Tyre had also ended up after a great storm.
This is really two consecutive operas, first the fall of Troy to the Greeks and second, the doomed love affair between the Trojan prince Aenaes and the Carthaginian Queen Dido. The first belongs to the women and Alice Coote singing Cassandra knew it. The emotion was raw, the anger visceral, and the curtain call majestic – sweeping across the stage in a glittering gown, acknowledging the audience like devotes before their goddess. Was it deserved? Perhaps it was somewhat extravagant and the mezzo voice, while strong and impressive, possibly sacrificed some beauty on the altar of drama.
There is not a great deal of opportunity for others to shine and some rather generous casting, such as the wonderful Rebecca Evans as Hecuba, a role that I cannot really remember being able to distinguish from the ensemble singing, was just one.
Michael Spyres’ Aeneas makes the right heroic, regal impact which is just as well as the Trojans in Carthage belongs to him as well as the African queen. In the role Paula Murrihy, was exquisite. She had the visual and dramatic presence required for the proud and much-loved queen, and in Tess Gibbs’ semi-staging, her characterisation was perfect. Even when love overcame her fears and worries about the future of her throne and Carthage, she continued to show an underlying reserve, a concern and analytical coolness that Cassandra felt lacking in those silly Trojans and that Greek gift. This is a soprano of great lyrical finesse. As her (sort of) hero, Spryes has a rich and expressive tenor voice that was ideal for the grand requirements of Berlioz’s characteristic grand arias.
Beth Taylor played and sang Anna with great charm and more than a little naughtiness, which, of course she comes to regret. I loved her taking off her shoes when she first comes to chat with her sister.
|Adèle Charvet, Alice Coote, Rebecca Evans, Lionel Lhote, Michael Spyres, Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique, Dinis Sousa|
These two operas are rich with delights, such as the contribution from the bright, light tenor of Laurence Kilsby as Hylas and particularly Iopas. It would be remiss not to credit Lionel Lhote as Chorèbe and Adèle Charvet as Ascagne and Ashley Riches as Panthée all of whom were vital in their own cameo roles or the great ensemble pieces. Alex Rosen as Narbal was a revelation.
The music was simply delicious and there was no skimping the revelling in Berlioz’s instantly appealing orchestral colours, melodic intoxication, edge of seats fervour and mesmerising woodwind and brass. The entirity of Act Four, including the Royal Hunt and Storm and Nuit d’ivresse et d’exstase infinie, was just wonderful from start to finish.
I could have done without some of the theatrical use of the choirs as the music and singing is sufficiently dramatic and narrative to make gestures unnecessary. Semi-staged works are always tricky but even more so when the players have to individually zig zag or move en masse around, behind, in front of, between members of the orchestra. It could be terribly irritating but best not to go there.
Images: Andy Paradise
Heavenly Dialogues des Carmelites, BBC Proms, Royal Albert Hall: