OPERA NEWS - Les Troyens
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In Review > North America

Les Troyens

Lyric Opera of Chicago

In Review Chicago Troyens hdl 217
Susan Graham and Brandon Jovanovich, Didon and in Chicago
© Todd Rosenberg

UNTIL THIS SEASON, Hector Berlioz’s herculean masterwork Les Troyens had been heard in Chicago only in concert form—first at Ravinia under James Levine in 1978, then split into halves at the CSO with Zubin Mehta in 2001 and 2002. On November 13, Troyens finally entered Lyric’s repertory in a magnificent new production by director Tim Albery.

Albery’s Troyens was stunning. Here was the grandeur of Romantic French grand opera filtered through the consciousness of a composer who appreciated the classicism of Gluck. Conductor Andrew Davis and his forces delivered a superb traversal of Berlioz’s score, deftly capturing its juxtaposition of pomp and intimacy. 

Christine Goerke might have been born to play Cassandre. The soprano’s voice gleamed like a laser, and she bit off her consonants with pointed expressivity. Although the cancellation by Sophie Koch, the announced Didon, robbed the production of its one native French principal, her defection facilitated the company return of Susan Graham, today’s most internationally celebrated Queen of Carthage. It would be impossible to imagine a more fully realized account of this role than Graham’s; the intensity of her denunciation of Énée made it almost a mad scene, and she spun ravishing pianissimos in Didon’s aching, poignant farewell. In Énée’s music, Brandon Jovanovich’s tenor rang above the orchestral climaxes like a trumpet, and he finessed some moments of exquisite delicacy in between. There was a touch of strain in the cabaletta of his great aria, but the top C was firmly in place, as was the leap into the stratosphere in the love duet. Baritone Lucas Meachem sounded ravishing as Chorèbe, and he was warmly compelling onstage.

Okka von der Damerau made Anna a major role. The excellent Christian Van Horn was an ideal Narbal. There was a mellifluous pair of secondary tenors in Mingjie Lei as Iopas and Jonathan Johnson as a sweet Hylas. Philip Horst was a vitally sonorous Panthée, Annie Rosen a pert Ascagne. Mercury’s cries of “Italie!” were reassigned to Hector’s ghost, which happily gave bass-baritone Bradley Smoak more to do. Major praise belongs to to Michael Black’s extraordinary chorus; the splendor of their sound in “Châtiment effroyable!” was great.

Albery’s intelligent production, with designs by Tobias Hoheisel and lighting by David Finn, was distinguished by an overlay of lush detail upon purity of structure, much like the music itself. The stage was dominated by a huge turntable bearing an encircling wall of dove-gray stonework with a clapboard sentry tower. Troy was littered with rubble, while all was pristinely scrubbed for the palace at Carthage. The projection design team Illuminos provided spectacle in the ominous shadow of the Trojan horse, as well as an enchanting environment of waterfalls and pastoral greenery for the Royal Hunt and Storm. The concept perhaps worked better for Troy than for Carthage, and purists may question Hoheisel’s World War II-era costuming, but the creativity here was formidable.

The opera was trimmed to approximately five hours. We lost two of the dances, and the excision of the comedic Sentries interlude was regrettable, as it mitigated Berlioz’s Shakespearean arc. Such trifles pale before glory, however. Troyens took its time to get here, but it arrived in grand style.  —Mark Thomas Ketterson

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