Berlioz: Les Troyens
Joyce DiDonato (Didon), Michael Spyres (Énée), Marie-Nicole Lemieux (Cassandre), Orchestre et Choeur philharmonique de Strasbourg, Badischer Staatsopernchor, Choeur de l’Opéra du Rhin, John Nelson (conductor).
What a treat to receive a new recording of the French romantic composer Hector Berlioz’ epic opera Les Troyens. Les Troyens is a tour de force of music that includes fiery military marches, intense choruses, passionate soliloquies and lyrical love duets. It is Hector Berlioz’s largest work and he wrote the libretto himself from Virgil’s epic poem the Aeneid; the score was composed between 1856 and 1858.
The ‘go to’ recording, since 2001, has been Colin Davis’s live (second) recording of the work – this time with the London Symphony Orchestra. In many ways Colin Davis was the supreme conductor of Berlioz so how will this new release from John Nelson match up? Nelsons managed to gather together a fine cast for these performances – high profile singers like Joyce DiDonato, Michael Spyres, Marie-Nicole Lemieux and Stéphane Degout cannot have come cheaply! Lemieux is suitably desperate as Cassandre, and is to be preferred to Petra Lang (Davis/LSO) and her performance is a highlight of the opening two acts. From there on, in the Carthage acts, Joyce DiDonato as Dido rightly takes over centre stage and puts in a highly dramatic and commited performance. Michael Spyres is renown as a Berlioz tenor and he is an exciting Énée. The Orchestre philharmonique de Strasbourg are perhaps not quite on a par with the LSO but Nelsons draws some remarkable playing from them and they more than hold their own.
This is an outstanding performance of Berlioz’ most ambitious work. One can argue that this work is the summation of Berlioz’ entire artistic career. He never saw it performed in its entirety but I am confident that the great composer would have approved of the Strasbourg performances from which this recording was made. The recording is superb and there is no hint of it being a live recording apart from the energy of the performers. As a performance it is at least a match for the live Davis version and as a piece of engineering it is far superior to to the Barbican recording with its limited accoustic.
A superb performance and a worthy CD of the month for December.
The video shows Joyce DiDonato recording the air Adieu, fière cité from Act 5 of the opera.