Jul 10, 2022 5pm Nationaltheater, Munich (Bavarian Opera)
Berlioz: Les Troyens
Cond: Daniele Rustioni, Dir: Christophe Honoré
Gregory Kunde (Aeneas), Jennifer Holloway (Cassandra), Ekaterina Semenchuk (Dido), Stéphane Degout (Chorebe), Bálint Szabó (Narbal), Martin Mitterrutzner (Iopas)
(scroll down for English review)
I was drawn to this new production of Les Troyens by two reasons. Bavarian Opera’s homepage listed the a run time of almost four hours, so I presumed this is uncut, I’ve already had my share of abridged Les Troyens. The second reason was French director Christophe Honoré, whom I knew by name for his film work. But after this show I’ll probably stay away from his work, both film and opera.
Far from courting controversy Honoré was too dull. He had no new ideas, or even, no ideas. He almost let the four hours go on auto-pilot. The only shocking images were naked men sunbathing in Act 3, and the gay sex orgy video accompanying Act 4’s Royal Hunt and Storm, The main flaw was him allowing a set that left too much open space on all sides of the stage. Even reliable singers such as Semenchuk and Degout were struggling to get heard. The chorus also. This is truly hell, after the vocal heaven of last night’s Peter Grimes, with a ceilinged set that boosted every singer’s voice.
The least affected was Gregory Kunde’s Aeneas. He sang in the premiere run in May. He wasn’t scheduled to sing this pair of festival shows but Jovanovich called in sick, so Kunde did both Otello and Les Troyens, eventually doing two shows of each in just nine days. Obviously he not only has the expertise but also the experience on what to do in such disastrous conditions so he managed to shine. Without him, these four hours would have been unbearable. The actual play time was 221 minutes, still a few minutes short of the fastest complete recordings. But conductor Rustioni had such vigour so I still believed this was uncut. At first I felt Rustioni should have made things easier for his affected singers. But then I thought otherwise, the singing was such a hopeless case that doing Berlioz’s innovative orchestral writing full justice was better than losing both birds.
My obsession for this opera might have been cured by this fiasco. I felt that the music (orchestra) was too superior for a grand opera, but the vocal singing wasn’t exciting enough. There are great moments but too many sections sound like oratorios than operas. Having seen the French original version of Verdi’s Sicilian Vespers earlier, this contemporary work of Berlioz paled in comparison, despite the Berlioz work having a cult status.