OPERA NEWS - Les Troyens
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In Review > International

Les Troyens

MILAN
Teatro alla Scala
4/16/14

In Review Milan Troyens lg 714
Sinuously compelling: Antonacci as Cassandre at La Scala
© Brescia/Amisano © Teatro alla Scala 2014

David McVicar's production of Les Troyens, unveiled at Covent Garden in June 2012, turned out to be the highlight of the present season at La Scala, with Antonio Pappano winning ovations for his first stint as an opera conductor in this house. The third performance of the run, on April 16, was deeply satisfying, both as an overall musico-theatrical experience and as a manifestation of magnetic individual talent. 

As in London, Anna Caterina Antonacci proved a sinuously compelling Cassandre, audaciously stylized — yet emotionally truthful — in gesture and impressively limpid in emission, putting to telling use what is perhaps the most eloquent French diction ever to emerge from an Italian soprano's throat. Gregory Kunde was equally stunning as Enée, displaying a heroically clarion upper octave with fine diction and a sure command of nuance. In his Act V aria, "Inutiles regrets!" (a formidable obstacle for most tenors), Kunde combined vocal ease with expressive concentration; his rhythmically electrifying delivery was enhanced by the dashing costume designed by Moritz Junge. 

Daniela Barcellona's Didon was more controversial. Her imposing figure and ample volume are well suited to the Queen of Carthage, but her voice sounded looser in its vibrations than is usually the case, with a somewhat ragged lower register. Her phrasing was emotionally focused but vocally not very finished (there was little dynamic variety), and her French pronunciation was decidedly variable. The director seems to have encouraged her to play down the regal dignity of the role: in Act III, she appeared charmingly girlish and informal, but in Act V, the great monologues acquired a hysterical quality that proved psychologically interesting, perhaps, but not very moving. 

The other sharply etched characters were Elena Zilio's fascinating Hécube and Alexandre Duhamel's resonant Panthée. The rest of the cast was more than adequate but not really memorable. For example, it was interesting to hear Giacomo Prestia's enveloping bass in the role of Narbal, but his characteristic vibrato and vowel production are better suited to Verdi than to Berlioz.

McVicar's production — which boasted new choreography by Lynne Page that was well attuned to both the music and the visual settings — was consistently successful in combining satisfying tableaux with cannily conceived and credible action. Es Devlin's cleverly contrived sets proved acoustically efficient, and the decision to evoke the humiliating end of the French Second Empire in the first two acts and conjure up a more timeless, sunbaked setting in the last three worked brilliantly. The only examples of directorial intrusiveness came in the final scene, with the unmoving and theatrically inept suicide of Didon and unnecessary return onstage of the (admittedly magnificent) Trojan horse with a puzzling human head.

La Scala's most recent revivals of Les Troyens were led by two of the finest Berlioz conductors — Georges Prêtre (1982) and Colin Davis (1996) — but Pappano was in no way overshadowed by his predecessors, extracting a performance of brilliant finish from the Scala Orchestra and Chorus (which also acted splendidly) and letting the great work unfold with both energy and souplesse, breathing with the singers to lend inner vitality to the melodic lines. spacer

STEPHEN HASTINGS

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