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Hector BERLIOZ (1803-1869)
Les Troyens
Aeneas - Bryan Hymel
Dido - Eva-Maria Westbroek
Cassandra - Anna Caterina Antonacci
Coroebus - Fabio Capitanucci
Anna - Hanna Hipp
Panthus - Ashley Holland
Ascanius - Barbara Senator
Narbal - Brindley Sherratt
Iopas - Ji-Min Park
Hylas - Ed Lyon
Ghost of Hector - Jihoon Kim
Priam - Robert Lloyd
Chorus and Orchestra of the Royal Opera House/Antonio Pappano
rec. live, Royal Opera House, London, 5 and 8 July 2012
Sound Format PCM Stereo, DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 Surround
Picture Format 16:9, 1080i
Region Worldwide
Subtitles in English, German, French, Spanish, Korean and Japanese
Reviewed in surround.
OPUS ARTE Blu-ray OABD7113D [254:00: opera + 30:00: extra features]

Opera is a dangerous business for the audience member. A lot of one's money hangs on the unpredictable whims of the stage directors. Singers and players usually serve the audience well but directors can sometimes impose a radical view which undermines and disrupt expectations to the detriment of the work. Sometimes it all works together extremely well, giving a result as moving as any artistic event can be. That was the case at Covent Garden in 2012 when Pappano and McVicar triumphed in Berlioz's greatest masterpiece Les Troyens. Apart from Der Ring des Nibelungen at Bayreuth during the 1980s and 1990s I have heard nothing more impressive in the opera house. These superbly recorded discs brought it all back with the added benefit of judiciously chosen close-ups and easily read surtitles plus Pappano's valuable insight lecture and act-by-act spoken introductions. The booklet has no fewer than 19 pages of essays and synopses in each of English, French and German along with multiple colour illustrations from the staging. And what a staging! Every inch of the ROH stage, both width and height, is used to house chorus, soloists, architectural facades, entire cityscapes, a huge horse-head, giant humanoid figures, forests and ships. Along with all that go flames, wreckage, lots of bloodstained figures: the list is long. Nothing depicted cannot be seen as consequent to the action demanded by Berlioz. The decision to clothe most characters in a hybrid classical-Napoleonic garb works extremely well. This was apparently one of the most complex stagings ever attempted by the Royal Opera House and whatever terrors were suffered by technical staff backstage and at rehearsals, on the night it worked to the Nth degree of perfection. Those of us privileged to be in the auditorium were beguiled.
On the other hand, Les Troyens is very far from being just the Cecil B. deMille of opera stagings: musically this is as complex and coherent as anything in the repertoire. Antonio Pappano and his ROH forces are magnificent in laying out the music to best effect. Even so the listener has to work hard to get inside this gigantic score and this is where repeated viewing at home helps. For the singers this music makes demands equal to anything in music. Everyone in the cast list above is superb but especial mention must be made of Aeneas, Bryan Hymel; Dido, Eva-Maria Westbroek; Cassandra, Anna Caterina Antonacci and Anna , Hanna Hipp; simply because the scale of their roles is so large. In the case of Westbroek, Hymel and Antonacci they have to hold the stage alone for great swathes of music. Westbroek is just wonderful, Hymel displays a level of power rarely heard and fills the role heroically. Antonacci gives a demoniac portrayal of the ignored prophetess of doom. They all have to sing out over a very large orchestra from which Berlioz expects a high level of virtuosity and, occasionally, of volume. The fact that I have not picked out everyone does not imply any lesser quality in smaller parts. As in Alice's caucus race, everyone has prizes.
The picture is crisp and well lit, the sound in DTS HD surround has clarity and a wide dynamic range. The accompanying booklet is well produced on quality paper and the two discs are packed in a strong slip case. Top class.

Dave Billinge


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