An Opera in three acts in French.
In Two Parts:
Part I: The Taking of Troy.
Part 2: The Trojans at Carthage.
With English Super-titles.
Music & Libretto by Hector Berlioz.
Conductor: Sir Andrew Davis.
Stage Director: Tim Albert.
At the Civic Opera House, Chicago.
Amazing New Production is a Triumphant Lyric Opera Premiere on many levels.
Many opera companies considered Hector Berlioz ‘s (1803-1869) Les Troyens epic musical drama too difficult and to expensive to produce as it contained a cast of 22 singers, a large chorus (here 94 members), with two ballets, a large orchestra and an ambitious set with several locations. Berlioz never was able to mount a complete 5-act version of his opera in his lifetime. Even today, the requirements by solo and duet vocalists, , conductors, choruses, orchestras, instrumentalists, stage directors, lighting, projection and set designers make Les Troyens simply too difficult to mount. Kudos to the creatives at the Lyric Opera of Chicago to have the determination and vision to mount Berlioz’s masterpiece. This is a rarely mounted and extremely creative opera that needs to be experienced.
This epic opera, with music and libretto by Berloiz, was finished in 1858 but not produced in all 5-acts until early 20th Century. This 2016 Lyric Opera production is the first in the opera company’s history. Sir Arthur Davis’ initial conduction of Berlioz’ opus was a supreme achievement as it utilizes Virgil’s Aeneid epic poem and Berlioz’s obsession to create a varied, emotionally rich and totally romantic score that befits the epic story.
With a large walled set with an open face that rotated, the grandeur of destroyed Troy and the clean white Carthage hosted the Two Part story. After a devastating battle with the Greeks, the Trojans rejoice when the Greeks leave Troy with a large wooden horse as a parting ode to the gods. Cassandra ( soprano Christine Goerke) sings to her visions of the destruction of the city possibly by the contents of the wooden horse. Cassandra begs Aeneas (tenor Brandon Jovanovich) to leave Troy with his warriors to found another city in Africa. He does that while Cassandra has all the woman kill themselves rather than be enslaved by the Greeks.
In Act three, we meet Dido (mezzo Susan Graham), the queen of Carthage as her subject praise her for leading them as the built a new city – Carthage. Anna (mezzo Okka Von Der Dameral), Dido’s sister, urges the queen to fall in love again so Carthage can have a king. Just as King Iarbas threatens to invade Carthage, a group of foreigners lands at Carthage. Aeneas’ army saves Carthage as Ascanius ( mezzo Annie Rosen), Aeneas’ son in Dido’s care while he fights for Carthage.
Having defeated Larbas, Aeneas stays in Carthage and falls in love with Dido. We see rich romantically wonderful music throughout from the 94 person chorus. In Act four, as Dido and Aeneas express their mutual love with help from two romantic ballets. But Aeneas is destined to leave Carthage for Italy. Aeneas dreads telling Dido he must leave. The ghosts of Cassandria, Chorebua, Hector and Priam order him to leave at once for Italy.
Dido is enraged that Aeneas has departed that she orders a pyre to burn Trojan gifts as she prophesies the coming of Hannibal who will attack Rome. She dies call out “Rome…Rome…”
This complex opera feature impressive chorus work, sensual ballet dancing and several fantastic performances. Christine Goerke as Cassandra foretold the eminent disaster richly. But Susan Graham’s stunning mezzo fueled Queen Dido with support from Okka Von Der Damerau as her sister Anna. But the performance of the opera came from Brandon Jovanovich who excelled with his fine singing. His excellent tenor was a joy to hear at he deftly handled one of the toughest tenor roles on all of opera! We also heard fine tenor work from Mingjie Lei as Iapas and Jonathan Johnson as Hylas.
The five hour, with two intermissions, held me with the emotionally varied and powerful score, the coral voices and the nicely paced staging. But Berlioz’s lush score keeps the opera enticing. This is an important and rarely produced opera that begs to be seen.
At the Civic Opera House, 20 N. Wacker Drive; $149-$349; 312-827-5600, www.lyricopera.org.