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Reviews

C Major 706104
09 Sep 2011

Les Troyens by La Fura dels Baus

When the opera opens, a chorus of Trojan is rejoicing that the Greeks have abandoned the war and gone home.

Hector Berlioz: Les Troyens

Énée: Lance Ryan; Chorèbe: Gabriele Viviani; Panthée: Giorgio Giuseppini; Narbal: Stephen Milling; Iopas: Eric Cutler; Ascagne: Oksana Shilova; Cassandre: Elisabete Matos; Didon: Daniele Barcellona; Anna: Zlata Bulycheva. Valencia Regional Government Choir (Cor de la Generalitat Valenciana). Valencian Community Orchestra (Orquestra de la Comunitat Valenciana). Valery Gergiev, conductor. La Fura dels Baus, staging. Carlus Padrissa, stage director. Ronald Olbeter, stage designer. Peter van Praet, lighting designer. Chu Uroz, costume designer. Recorded live from the Palau de les Arts “Reina Sofia”, Valencia, Spain, 2009.

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They are dressed as contestants in a hockey game—at the end of the second act we will learn, from Casssandra’s jersey, that they play for Team Troy.

This is startling. On closer inspection we see that the costumes also have elements of the clone warriors in Star Wars, and many other sorts of mechano-futuristic adventure-kitsch will appear later: the Trojan Horse is a kind of space capsule, made of steel planes that become whirling blades; when, in the first act pantomime, Hector’s little orphan puts an offering on his father’s tomb, it turns out to be a toy monster-truck. Later, in the Carthaginian acts, Dido and her court inhabit a space ship: four huge octagonal rings with a nose cone in back, and eight giant gray inflated cylinders protruding forward, creating an allusion to a hull. Dido has left Phoenicia to build a city, not in Africa, but in outer space.

Berlioz’s singers undergo a great many transports, and rapture, in this low-gravity environment, always means levitation. Cassandra and the other suicidal women rise out of the clutches of the Greek rapists; Dido and Aeneas rise into the air as the they sing their duet, at the end of which Mercury flies by in a satellite to urge Aeneas to leave Dido and fulfill his mission; Hylas, at the beginning of act 5, is not in the crow’s-nest of a ship but floating in a space suit, tethered to a satellite, with Greenland far below.

Carlus Padrissa, the stage director, has other technologies in his armamentarium. The cast often lug computer monitors with them: during the lovely act 4 septet, the monitors show treble clefs and other music-notation detritus, reinforcing the idea that this opera is, in fact, an opera. At the end of act 2, the rear projection displays a computer monitor sending alarming messages of system failure and virus alert. Indeed the production seems designed to be seen less in an opera house than on a computer screen: at the end of act 5, as Dido commits suicide, she stands on the nose cone (now outfitted as a kind of bed), upon which computer monitors are erected, showing the image of the Trojan Horse from act 1: Dido is dreaming of a new Trojan Horse to lay waste the second Troy that Aeneas will build in Italy. Objects continually threaten to flatten into digital images, in this extremely pixeled production.

I admire the way in which Padrissa attended to the strictly narrative and metaphorical aspects of the text: aspects that Berlioz left undramatized, Padrissa dramatized. When Cassandra sings of the vultures that will eat the Trojans’ bodies, the circumvolving smoke on the rear projects starts to turn into shadowy images of huge pecking birds. When Aeneas narrates the death of Laocoon, strangled by sea serpents, two gray cylinders (which will be part of the space ship in act 3) come to life and (with dancers strapped to the ends to represent mouths) start to devour Laocoon. The visual elements become a second orchestra, telling what Berlioz’s staging was (in Berlioz’s time) unable to show.

Musically, the production is beyond anyone’s dreams of excellence. Lance Ryan’s Aeneas is rhythmically careless in places, but outdoes Vickers in vehemence and (maybe) vocal power; Elisabete Matos’s Cassandra and Daniela Barcellona’s Dido are merely superb. Gergiev conducts with ardor, subtlety, and decisiveness. But: not many members of the cast can sing French vowels without discoloration.

Daniel Albright

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