Berlioz’s Les Troyens, one of the greatest operatic masterpieces, manages to be neglected even if it is quite often performed. The vast reputations of the most popular operatic composers seem to grow ever larger with the years, but Berlioz somehow always needs defending.
Listening to this latest CD set, ‘live’ from Strasbourg, I was struck as always by the magnificence of much of the music, and the characteristic lurches into banality or irrelevance that account, I suspect, for the work being so often underrated. But when you get to the last half-hour, Aeneas’s departure for Rome, and Dido’s rage, misery, curses, sudden accesses of calm, fresh outbursts, serene acceptance of utter loss, and final doomed realisation of Rome’s triumph, you find yourself on a level that simply dwarfs most other operas’ attempts at the classical sublime. There’s been plenty of wonderful music before this moment, but even if there hadn’t been, that would be worth waiting for.
I venture to suggest that Les Troyens will take its rightful place in the repertoire only if about one of its four hours is cut. Yet, today, cuts are regarded as blasphemous, which does at least as much harm as good.
Meanwhile, enjoy Joyce DiDonato as an impassioned Dido, Marie-Nicole Lemieux as Cassandra, and Michael Spyres as Aeneas, under John Nelson’s inspired direction (there’s a DVD of extracts from the performances as an extra), and marvel anew at the nobility and intensity of Berlioz’s inspiration.