OP0016. LES TROYENS, recorded 1993, w. Dutoit Cond. Montréal S.O.; Gary Lakes, François Pollet, Deborah Voigt, Gino Quilico, John Mark Ainsley, etc. 4-London 443 693, Handsome Slipcase Edition w.Elaborate 246pp. Libretto-Brochure. Very long out-of-print, Final Copy! - 028944369328
“In over a hundred years of recording history, there have been no more than forty recordings of Berlioz’s epic masterpiece in any form – excerpts, complete, in French, English and several other languages – and there are reasons for that comparative paucity of output. Of those, only two are complete studio recordings in French, as Scherchen’s 1952 set is just Part 2, LES TROYENS À CARTHAGE. There are, however, also a couple of complete, live, modern recordings in French, whose digital sound is virtually as good as the studio versions; otherwise, despite individual gems, the catalogue offers a limited choice if you apply the reasonable criteria of wanting a complete performance in good sound performed in French by first-rate singers. Fortunately, we are not bereft of worthy accounts: those remaining options are generally attractive and there is also a range of excellent supplementary recordings.
LES TROYENS is challenging to stage as well as sing; it essentially combines two operas running for a total of four hours and as such a stage production is at least the equivalent of mounting GÖTTERDÄMMERUNG - and you need two prima donnas, not just one. I am of the not especially controversial opinion that the best music is in the second half of an opera, which is why that was first performed. The Trojan first part is necessarily more jagged and violent apart from interludes such as the lovely duet between Cassandre and Chorèbe, whereas the Carthage action contains more which is lyrical or reflective. The opera is sometimes presented in those two halves over two evenings but it's surely best to hear the whole thing in its entire sweep. Opportunities to see it in the opera house are rare; even Berlioz himself never got to see it staged in its entirety, only the last three Acts, as LES TROYENS À CARTHAGE - and those were still cut. For example, the Royal Opera, Covent Garden, struggled to assemble a cast for their last production in 2012 and had not previously mounted the opera in four decades.
Berlioz conceived LES TROYENS as a French Grand Opera and it is diminished by any notions of performing it in ‘chamber style’ with smaller-voiced singers. Berlioz surely had a tenor of the Georges Thill type in mind for Aeneas, a special category of voice called ‘lyric-dramatic’; seek out his vintage recordings if you want to hear the ideal voice-type in this role, both virile and refined - his final top B in ‘Inutiles regrets’ is stunning. Of course LES TROYENS has its lyrical moments – as does the RING – and the tenor must be able to sing softly, but it needs to be performed by heroic voices and maintain a sense of epic scale. I also think it must be sung in French if the rhythms of Berlioz’s own libretto, based on his reading of Virgil, are to be properly embedded within his music. I am a self-confessed Berlioz devotée and am proud of the contribution British musicians such as Beecham, Colin Davis, Alexander Gibson and Janet Baker have made to reviving and presenting his music to a grateful public but relist that influencing my responses.”
- Ralph Moore, MusicWebInternational