Berlioz's Les Troyens triumph at La Scala

Xl_troyen © DR

Milan’s Teatro alla Scala was one of the first theatres to take on the arduous task of staging Les Troyens, at a time when Berlioz’s work was a matter of complete indifference to the public.In an epoch-making Italian edition, Giulietta Simionato amd Mario Del Monaco were able to restore their full dimension to the principal roles, thanks in part to the presence of Rafael Kubelik at the rostrum.Leaving it up to the English to go back to the original version some years later, with singers trained in the French style, it was the Royal Opera House in London that was behind this production of Les Troyens, by David McVicar, which then continued on its way to the San Francisco Opera and the Vienna Staatsoper, which are its co-producers.

The Scottish director certainly designed a lavish spectacle, but it is neither complex nor very detailed; the transposition of the libretto at the time was devoid of dramaturgical motivation.A simple decorator’s spectacle, then, albeit with some super images such as the gigantic articulated horse’s head – composed of warlike metal parts – that approaches as far as the orchestra pit at the end of Act I, creating an absolutely striking effect.Alongside that, the ballets often borders on the ridiculous, the costumes do not shine any more despite their uniqueness, and, above all, the singers are not directed.

On the other hand, one can only applaud the conducting by Sir Antonio Pappano – making his La Scala debut – nervous and distinguished, always attentive to the sound balance.He handles the choral masses with an astounding sense of dramatic pacing and creates a tableau of breath-taking tragic grandeur.By turning the orchestra into a privileged commentator, the English director reaches the idea of “total art” in which music, singing and text form an indivisible whole.

The choruses and soloists perform within a veritable sound showcase.The former – the magnificent Coro della Scala – shine with clarity and a very sharp sense of dynamic shading.The latter comprise a mostly triumphant cast, starting with the incandescent Cassandre of Anna Caterina Antonacci.After having triumphed in the role all over Europe, the Italian soprano repeats the challenge of plating a Cassandra that is close to perfection.Beyond the singer’s really unique theatrical performance, it is the intrinsic beauty of her timbre and its infinite colours, the omnipresent musicality of the singing despite its vehemence -- and in particular a French diction and a way of chiselling the words that are truly masterful – that overwhelm the listener and leave him stunned.

The second triumph of the evening, the no less superb Daniela Barcellona, who offers a magnificent portrait of the Queen of Carthage, as convincing as a seductive woman in love as she is as a betrayed and abandoned lover.Moving from imprecations of rage to the depths of despair, her voice yields to the various emotions expressed with the same stunning naturalness; it electrifies as much as it overwhelms.Her warm, fleshy timbre, her aristocratic bearing, her superb singing line, her authoritative projection – which can also be sweet and caressing when the score requires – enable her to sing an especially moving “Adieu fière cité”.

Her Enée is the American tenor Gregory Kunde who plays a character full of passion and brilliance.After an opening aria full of abriupt energy, he is no less convincing in the Act IV love duet, “Nuit d'ivresse et d'extase infinite”, delivered with infinite delicacy in a mixed voice.  With Fabio Maria Capitanucci’s Chorèbe, we come down several notches:confused diction and shouted cavatina in the first act “Mais le ciel et la terre”.In better voice is Deyan Vatchkov as Hector’s Ghost, hieratic and dark.The sole representative of French singing, Alexandre Duhamel is a noteworthy Panthée, whereas Italy’s Paola Gardina offers an Ascagne with a pleasantly amber timbre.In Carthage, Maria Radner should have been more present in the face of Giacomo Prestia’s Narbal.Finally, while Shalva Mukeria is disappointing as Iopas, Paolo Fanale, as melancholy of timbre as he is of song, plays a lovely Hylas.

In the end, then, we will not deny our pleasure.If it does not serve the score, neither does the performance thwart it, and all the vocal and musical joys experienced are enough to persuade us of the grandeur and beauty of this Les Troyens, triumphantly greeted by a standing-room-only hall.


Loosely translated from Emmanuel Andrieu's french review.

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