Berlioz epic gets new staging by Royal Opera
In this image released by the Royal Opera house in London on Monday, June 25, 2012 shows the cast members of the opera Les Troyens, Eva-Maria Westbroek, playing Dido, left, Bryan Hymel playing Aeneas, centre, and Barbara Senator playing Ascanius taken on Wednesday, June 20, 2012. The version by director David McVicar which premiered Monday, June 25 marks the first time the company has performed the full opera in 40 years. It's an official event of the London 2012 Festival being held in conjunction with the Olympics _ and set designer Es Devlin is also designing the closing ceremony for the Games. (AP Photo/Bill Cooper, Royal Opera House)
LONDON (AP) — Other than Wagner's "Ring" cycle, few 19th century operas can compare with Hector Berlioz's "Les Troyens" ("The Trojans") for beauty and grandeur. Or for length and staging challenges.
Now this epic work (5 ½ hours, counting intermissions) has just opened in a new production at the Royal Opera House that offers terrific singing and conducting, sumptuous sets and costumes — and a few head-scratching elements like a flying saucer.
The version by director David McVicar which premiered Monday night marks the first time the company has performed the full opera in 40 years. It's an official event of the London 2012 Festival being held in conjunction with the Olympics — and in fact set designer Es Devlin is also designing the closing ceremony for the Games.
Writing an opera based on Virgil's "Aeneid" was a lifelong dream of the French composer, who adapted his own libretto. Though he rightly judged it "greater and nobler" than any of his other compositions, he never got to hear it performed in full before he died in 1869.
Berlioz divided the opera into two parts. The first depicts the fall of Troy, despite the warnings of Cassandra; the second tells of Aeneas' escape to Carthage, where he falls in love with Queen Dido, only to leave her so he can follow his destiny to found Rome.
One of the problems for any production is how to unify these two parts, and McVicar and Devlin have solved this in masterful fashion. Troy is represented by the exterior of a four-story circular wall made of rusted metal that protects the city — until its residents throw it open to admit the horse the Greeks have left behind.
Audiences expect any production of "Les Troyens" to conjure up a spectacular horse, and this one is something else! A towering contraption seemingly put together from bits of wheels, pieces of swords and other detritus from years of war, it looks like one of those mechanized monsters in a Star Wars movie.
Once the scene shifts to Carthage, we're on the inside of the circular wall, and the cold metal is replaced by a warm, orange-brown brick structure decorated with Moorish windows and archways. In contrast to the Crimean War-era military uniforms worn by the Greeks and Trojans, the peaceable Carthaginians are dressed in bright, multi-colored flowing robes (by costume designer Moritz Junge).