The aria, Vallon sonore, which opens the fifth act of Hector Berlioz’ sprawling 1858 grand opera, Les Troyens, is a dreamy song of homesickness. It is sung by Hylas, a young Phrygian sailor who, having arrived in the harbor of Carthage, longs to return to his “native valley.” The aria’s serene, hypnotic underlying rhythm evokes the “gently rocking” waves on which Hylas could sail home. Only briefly is the tranquillity interrupted by the roar of the sea’s full power.
The aria inhabits a hazy, hallucinatory world which we often encounter throughout the music of Berlioz. Harmonically, it feels suspended in time in a way which suggests the stasis of A Scene in the Country from Symphonie fantastique. In a scene from the 1996 science fiction film, Star Trek: First Contact, Captain Picard listens to this music while contemplating a fight with the Borg. Here, the vast, lonely distances of the sea blend with those of outer space. The adventurers of antiquity meet those of the future—in the case of the Star Trek film, the year 2373.
This 1970 recording features the Welsh tenor, Ryland Davies, with Sir Colin Davis and the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. Davies, who was noted for Mozart, Rossini, and Donizetti roles, passed away last Sunday, November 5 at the age of 80.
- Berlioz: Les Troyens, Sir Colin Davis, Orchestra and Chorus of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, Jon Vickers, Josephine Veasey, Berit Lindholm, Ryland Davies Amazon
Featured Image: an illustration from the cover of an 1863 vocal score for Berlioz’ Les Troyens à Carthage.