Sixteen vocal soloists, three choirs, and perhaps the largest orchestra ever conceived for opera…
These are the requirements for Les Troyens (“The Trojans”), Hector Berlioz’ massive 1858 French grand opera in five acts. Berlioz himself adapted the libretto from Virgil’s epic poem, the Aeneid. He didn’t live to see the opera performed in its entirety. But he considered it to be his crowning achievement, writing in 1861,
I am sure that I have written a great work, greater and nobler than anything done hitherto.
A spectacular new concert performance of Les Troyens was released at the end of November. John Nelson leads the Orchestre philharmonique de Strasbourg and a cast which includes Joyce DiDonato (Didon), Michael Spyres (Énée), and Marie-Nicole Lemieux (Cassandre).
When it comes to “symphonic” opera in which the orchestra plays an equal role with the singers, Wagner may be the first composer to come to mind. But the same psychological overtones and dramatic weight are here in Berlioz’ orchestration. Here are a few highlights:
“Malheureux roi!” from Act I, performed by Marie-Nicole Lemieux:
Didon’s act V monologue, “Ah! Ah! Je vais mourir,” performed by Joyce DiDonato:
The act V aria,“Ah! quand viendra l’instant des suprêmes adieux,” performed by Michael Spyres:
- Berlioz: Les Troyens, Op. 29, Soloists: Joyce DiDonato (Didon), Michael Spyres (Énée), Marie-Nicole Lemieux (Cassandre), Stéphane Degout (Chorèbe), Nicolas Courjal (Narbal), Marianne Crebassa (Ascagne), Hanna Hipp (Anna), Cyrille Dubois (Iopas), Stanislas de Barbeyrac (Hélénus/Hylas), Philippe Sly (Panthée), Agnieszka Slawinska (Hécube), Jean Teitgen (L’ombre d’Hector/Mercure), Bertrand Grunenwald (Priam), Jérôme Varnier & Frédéric Caton (Deux sentinelles)
Choeur de l’Opéra du Rhin
Choeur philharmonique de Strasbourg
Orchestre philharmonique de Strasbourg/John Nelsons Amazon, iTunes
Photograph by Grégory Massat