Thursday, December 27, 2012

Met Opera Review: Graham triumphs in revival of Les Trojans

By Francisco Salazar
(For performance of December 21, 2012)

It has been nearly 20 years since the Metropolitan Opera has presented Berlioz's masterpiece Les Troyens. The work which was written in fives acts spans a lengthy running time of 4 hours of music and five hours in the theater. It is not only a long night but also a difficult opera to cast as their are a number of solo roles and a number of ballets. On December 21, the Met's Francesca Zambello production demonstrated that Berlioz's work should be performed more often and a staple of the repertoire.

Susan Graham sang the role of Didone for the first time in more than ten years. She previously sang the role in 2002 at the Bastille and never returned to it. Ten years have passed and Graham's voice has changed but her  artistry was in full display throughout the performance. At the beginning of act three Graham sang her first aria "Chers Tyriens" with with softness and gentleness. The voice gleamed in the top notes and even though it sometimes sounded like she was overpowered by the orchestra, Graham's Didone was a a righteous and cheerful queen. Her subsequent duet with her sister Anna (played by Karen Cargill), was also sung with an extended legato lines and tender phrasing. However the highlight of the evening was during her duet with Enee and her mad scene at the end of Act five. During Nuit d'ivrese Graham gave off purity without any force. It also helped that she moved around the stage as if she glided without any effort. Graham gave each praise a lovely character and one was convinced that her love for Enee was sincere. Her transformation in the following act was complete. During her mad scene Graham's smile and and delicate gestures were transformed into harsh and quick movements. Her voice opened up and even soared through the orchestra. Her phrasing was no longer as delicate and instead it was filled with intensity, and passion. As she remembered her time with Enee, Graham brought back the delicacy giving us a sense of Didone's suffering. All in all Graham demonstrated that this is a role that fits her voice and one that should remain in her repertoire.

Deborah Voigt also had a solid night demonstrating fierce top notes, brilliant phrases and complexity to Cassandra. One of Voigt's highlights included her death scene as she pleads to all the women of Troy to either kill themselves or let them be raped by the Greeks. She provided anguish but also authority. Her opening aria "Malheureux Roi" was also sung with restraint but still provided the necessary torment to demonstrate that Cassandra had seen the impending doom of the Trojans.

While the two divas had solid nights, the Enee on this night Marcello Giordani had an uneven outing. It is important to know that this was his last performance in the role as he has decided to retire the role and Bryan Hymel will replace him. When Giordani first sang his monologue "Du Peuple et Des Soldats," he sounded out of breath and underpowered. His voice also sounded strained and tired. Things did not get better during the second act when he sang a brief line when Hector's shadow appears but thankfully it was short and Giordani would have time to rest his voice. During Act three and four Giordani improved singing ardently. His voice while not correct for the french style rang especially in his middle voice. There were some wonderful pianissimos filled with delicacy. However when he was expected to soar and bring his powerful voice to full bloom, Giordani failed to captivate. During his duet with Susan Graham, he sounded out of breath,  and was unable to match the elegance and smooth phrasing of his partner. His voice was raspy and his high notes sounded forced. Giordani's low point came during his act five aria "En Un Dernier Naufrage" By this point Giordani sounded exhausted and his phrases were choppy. His stratospheric high C required in the aria sounded as if it was screamed. All in all Giordani's Enee  was disappointing.

In the supporting cast Dwayne Croft reprised the role of Coroebus. Before the performance, it was announced that he was ill. However Croft's sound was clean and smooth in his middle range but his illness was evident when he went into his high range. Croft almost cracked a couple times in his act one duet with Cassandra. Karen Cargill had a solid evening as Anna. Her Act three duet with Cassandra demonstrated her lyric qualities and in act five she showed her powerful sound. Paul Appleby as Hylas was a standout as his voice gleamed in his short aria " Vallon Sonore" at the beginning of act five. Hos lyric sound demonstrated his yearning for Italy and the promise of a new world. He fared best in terms of tenors and is one to look out for.

Also in the cast included Eric Cutler as Iopas. His voice has gone from being nasal to grainy. There is a bit of instability in some of his middle range but his high notes are solid. His song "O blone Ceres" was sung with beauty and lyricism. Kwangchul Youn sang Narbal and David Crawford was the Ghost of Hector.

Francesca Zambello's production is visually stunning and displays the circularity of  the world. At the beginning of the opera we see a chorus lying done as if they are dead and and the end there is a similar image. Zambello demonstrates the fall of both the Trojans and the Carthaginians and chosing to open and close the opera with the same imagery. At the center of the stage there is a turntable that rotates changing the set and allowing it to bring in a bed in and out. It is also used during the "Nuit d'ivresse" as the Carthaginians and the Trojans lie united on the floor. The turntable rotates as Enee and Didone unite in their love.

Some of the most interesting imagery comes in act one when Cassandra pulls a curtain and covers up the stage. Behind the curtain one sees the silhouette of the Trojan horse. It creates the effect of the imminent destruction of Troy. Didone also pulls the curtain in act five as she sings her mad scene but the effect is different. Didone is able to get away from the grandeur of Carthage and allows her a moment of intimacy she has not had since the opera part two begins. Also memorable were the ballets even if sometimes it seemed there were too many.

Fabio Luisi conducted with his usual energy and his pacing allowed for the evening to go smoothly The Orchestra soared especially during each of the choral moments and during the ballets.

All in all Les Trojans was a good evening at the Met. While it was not one of my favorite performances, there is still a lot to look at and one that should not be missed unless your willing to wait another ten years. 


  1. Saw the HD broadcast in the movie theater on Saturday. WOW! Magnificent production and singing. Bryan Hymel is incredible. He sounds just like Jon Vickers. I totally agree with Francisco that Les Troyens should be performed more often.

  2. I saw it on the 13th, which was opening night. It was long I'll give it that. I don't think we will be seeing it at The Met again for a long while.