Tue | Jun 19, 2018

'Les Troyens' powerful, majestic, passionate

Published:Friday | January 4, 2013 | 12:00 AM
Susan Graham as Dido.
Deborah Voigt (foreground) as Cassandra. - Contributed PHOTOS


Opera fans will have a rare opportunity to witness Hector Berlioz's vast war epic Les Troyens (The Trojans) when the Met Opera in HD resumes tomorrow at 12 noon in the Carib 5, Cross Roads, St Andrew.

Les Troyens was last performed at the Met in 2003 and this reprisal boasts an impressive cast. However, the current buzz is about newcomer Bryan Hymel, the 33-year-old American tenor from New Orleans who, at short notice, stepped into the role of the Trojan hero Aeneas.

According to New York Times, Anthony Tommasini, the entire cast lined up onstage and applauded along with the audience during a prolonged ovation when Hymel appeared for his curtain call at the end of his performance a few days ago.

Aeneas, is said to be one of the most difficult challenges for a tenor, because it demands vastly different styles of singing, ranging from heroic passages with the power and ring of a Wagnerian tenor, to refined, French-styled lyricism.

Les Troyens, conducted by Met principal conductor Fabio Luisi, also stars Deborah Voigt as Cassandra, Susan Graham as Dido, Karen Cargill as Anna, Eric Cutler as Iopas, Dwayne Croft as Coroebus, and Kwangchul Youn as Narbal.

Director Francesca Zambello and stars Susan Graham and Deborah Voigt discuss the revival Les Troyens, in which women dominate the action.

Q: Les Troyens is one of the biggest epics in all of opera. How do you handle its countless moving parts?

Francesca Zambello: Well, having done some other pieces on this scale, it always comes down to how can you tell the story in an emotional, passionate and clear fashion for an audience? And a work like Les Troyens actually has a very clear story throughout. I've directed The Ring, I've directed War and Peace, Khovanshchina, and in a way, they have much more complex plots. This plot, on the other hand, is very much a quest story - you are following the hero from beginning to end. But I want to be clear: it's not easy!

Q: Debbie, you sing Cassandra, the Trojan prophetess, and Susan, you're Dido, the Queen of Carthage. Tell us about these roles.

Deborah Voigt: I love Cassandra's character and personality. She has dignity and pathos and her heart is breaking for her people and what they are about to endure. And the music Berlioz composed for her reflects every bit of this woman's richness. I love singing her music. I love the intensity of her feelings, but I also love the "compactness" that Berlioz used to compose her music and express who she is.

Susan Graham: I have to say that this opera, for me, is Mount Everest. There's nothing bigger. It's epic. The storytelling arc, the vocal arc - it's enormous. We meet Dido as she's rebuilding the civilisation of Carthage and it's all very optimistic. Everything's going really well - except for her sad heart. And then this dashing warrior, Aeneas, arrives. And we see her go from being this beloved public figure to having this youthful rebirth of her feelings of love. This opera is about war, empire-building - traditionally 'male' things. And yet these women really drive the story, and they're so complex. I think what's interesting is that both women are highly political, and that's something you don't get in many operas. These women are always driven by their duty versus their desires. Cassandra, in many ways, chooses the political over love, in the end. And Dido - you know, Indira Gandhi, Hillary Clinton, Imelda Marcos before she went wrong, Eva Peron, all of those women of the 20th century who had an incredible connection with their people are, I think, wrapped up in this character.

Q: What makes Berlioz such a revolutionary composer?

SG: Well, I'm a huge Berlioz fan. I love telling stories through his incredible imagery, the orchestration, the drama that he puts into everything, the lyrical beauty of the love scenes. It's a thrill to undergo it. I think that he's one of those rare birds where there's this revelatory orchestration that was groundbreaking, but he also has such a foot in the tradition of Gluck, who he was so influenced by. In all the Iphigénies and everything that I've done, I can always feel Berlioz coming.

FZ: Berlioz speaks in a way that is very dramatic and that's utterly unique. His voice is so different from his contemporaries writing around him, whether it was Verdi or late Rossini or Wagner getting going.

DV: He's probably the ultimate Romantic composer, but he's not too grandly, overly expressive. There's a kind of elegant restraint to even his most sweeping, emotional passage - he doesn't go on forever expressing how the character is feeling. Not only is this artistically appealing, it saves the singer, too!