CAST: Cassandre: Marie-Nicole Lemieux, Chorèbe: Stéphane Degout, Panthée: Philippe Sly, Hélénus/Hylas: Stanislas de Barbeyrac, Ascagne: Marianne Crebassa, Hécube: Agnieszka Sławińska, Priam: Bertrand Grunenwald, Énée: Michael Spyres, Hector: Jean Teitgen, Didon: Joyce DiDonato, Anna: Hanna Hipp, Iopas: Cyrille Dubois, Narbal: Nicolas Courjal, Un soldat/Un capitaine grec: Richard Rittelmann, Sentinelle I: Jérôme Varnier, Sentinelle II: Frédéric Caton
Chœur de l’Opéra national du Rhin, Badischer Staatsopernchor, Chœur philharmonique de Strasbourg
Orchestre Philharmonique de Strasbourg
John Nelson, conductor
The present live recording of Hector Berlioz’s monumental opera Les Troyens took place at the Salle Érasme in Strasbourg in April 2017. Considering that this is a live recording, the first thing to notice is that the sound engineers have performed miracles with the audio which is so rich and detailed that, if it were not for the information at the end of the booklet, it would have be virtually impossible to guess that these Troyens have been performed on stage (though in concert form).
This is not a complete version of the opera: conductor John Nelson has decided to omit the Sinon scene in the first act and opted for the shorter ending of Act V, as he informs us in the booklet notes. Nelson evidently enjoys conducting this long and complex opera and the result is that he offers a vibrant and intense rendition of it. The energy and dynamism that usually characterize a live performance are all present here and there is not a single moment when it seems that the powerful ebb and flow of music leaves space to indecision or weakness. The rich sound of the Orchestre Philharmonique de Strasbourg is wonderfully captured and can be appreciated in every nuance, while the excellent choruses (Chœur de l’Opéra national du Rhin, Badischer Staatsopernchor, Chœur Philharmonique de Strasbourg) are a pleasure for the ears with their powerful singing.
The cast is almost completely constituted by French singers with the two American exceptions of Joyce DiDonato and Michael Spyres.
It is not exaggeration to state that Marie-Nicole Lemieux’s disconsolate Cassandre is the most impressive figure of the first acts. Lemieux gives prominence to the main features of her role from the very beginning and is able to give the idea of anxiety as from the narration of ill omens in Les Grecs ont disparu. In her role, she accentuates this mood with the personal and effectively expressive feelings of sorrow, pain and desperation that make her role so pitiful and sombre. Overall, Lemieux’s Cassandre has more than one strong points at her favour and her achievement is even more outstanding considering that she never performed this character on stage.
Joyce DiDonato (Dido) takes the place of Lemieux as the protagonist of the last acts with a very good result, even though this is not her usual repertoire and her singing reveals her belonging to a different kind of music from time to time. Her vibrato, which is usually quick, appears more prominent than in other recordings and not particularly beautiful. On the other hand, her usual energy and confidence are as mesmerizing as usual, not to speak of her temperament. DiDonato’s understanding of Dido is complete and deep and her heroine is portrayed as a real woman who feels true emotions – emotions that are always characterized by endless sweetness, both in the love duet (Nuit d’ivresse et d’extase infinie) with Énée and in the tragic last act. DiDonato’s Dido is a vulnerable and, therefore, charming heroine.
Michael Spyres’s Énée is perfectly balanced between the heroic and the human sides of his character, in compliance with the conductor’s wish to give prominence to the humanity and not to the heroism of Les Troyens. His voice is powerful and rich and, differently from other recordings where he sounds affected and old-fashioned, in Les Troyens he is really impressive for his strength and insight.
The other, minor roles are sung by very good singers and it is really the case to mention at least Stéphane Degout as Chorèbe, who distinguish himself with his exquisite skill, and the exceptional Marianne Crebassa as Ascagne.