A farewell to Troyens

I leave Berlioz’s massive magnum opus, which we gave our final Tanglewood performance this weekend, with reluctance. It’s such a tremendous work, full of enormous dimensions of art, drama, mythology, and humanity.

As I bid my farewell (aside from the reviews, which are rolling in and will show up in my daily links), a few thoughts about the work and our performances:

I previously called the opera a beast, but this description is, strictly speaking, only applicable to the first half (the capture of Troy). The first act plays the ill-fated celebration of the Trojans against Cassandra’s foreknowledge of the city’s doom, and the music continuously underscores the comparison–slashing punctuation from the orchestra under sunny arias, rising chromatic chords under the chorus’s premature victory march–until the terrible truth of the horse is revealed. The second half is a love tragedy, and has a broader palette on which to play out its psychodrama.

The whole first half hinges on the characterization of Cassandra. The soloist must strike a balance between portraying her fear and anguish and her love for Chorebus. In our Symphony Hall performances, Yvonne Naef gave a magnificently dramatic reading of the prophecy but was less convincing in convincing the audience that the love of Dwayne Croft’s Chorebus was more than a distraction. Anna Caterina Antonacci’s Cassandra was more equally passionate in both sides of the role, and her performance lent a warmer color to the love duet that deepened the calamity of the fall.

Berlioz may have intended the work to be performed in a single monumental evening, but there are so many parallels between the first and second halves of the work that the opera’s division works well in concert. There are repeated themes and motifs–the Trojan March is the most obvious example, but a more subtle and chilling parallel can be found in the descending chromatic scale sung by the Ghost of Hector in Part I and by Dido as she contemplates her suicide in Act II, as well as the muted French horns and piccolos denote the appearances of ghosts throughout the entire work.

The thing, then, with Les Troyens is that it more than adequately repays the listener for working through all its complexities (and in fact its sheer bulk). I hope I have an occasion to see it again in my lifetime. I would sing it again in an instant.

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