Vive La France!

Despite Les Gilet Jaunes

PW & EW - East Sussex

Dear Andrew

What an amazing 2 days. The new production of Les Troyens was extremely interesting though not universally well received by the Opéra Bastille audience - not a toga in sight. Dmitri Tcherniakov’s direction focussed on the threads which run through both parts of Les Troyens- the Fall of Troy, and the Dido and Aeneas story. You can of course take at face value the influence of the gods and their malice towards Troy but Tcherniakov focussed on the human frailties involved. The central conundrum- why did no one believe Cassandra or for that matter Laocoon when they warned about greek treachery- was drawn out by making Priam appear the arrogant but bone headed figure described by the ancient poets; so he was dressed as a tin pot military dictator with a lovely uniform and lots of self awarded medals but no sense of danger. The libretto also makes clear that Aeneas had reservations about the Horse but he was so furious about being passed over for the succession in favour Hector’s baby son that he keep his mouth shut.

The second part- set in Carthage- was placed in a facility for people with PTSD which given that Dido and the Carthaginians had fled from the destruction of Tyre, and Aeneas and his followers from Troy was a highly plausible concept. If Dido and Aeneas were suffering from trauma it makes their mutual attraction followed by their mutual destructiveness understandable. The production also drew attention to the long term implications of Dido’s curses and suicide which were the long term rivalry and hatred between Rome and Carthage- the Punic wars.

Berlioz like Handel is a master of using the orchestration and the score to illustrate what is really going on by contrast with the words being sung and Philippe Jordan drew this out in masterly fashion- he is just so good at Berlioz. Every nuance and shift of mood was there- the band were amazing. The tension was maintained through the whole evening. Stephanie  D’Oustrac dominated the first part as a wonderfully convincing Cassandra, with strong support from Stephane Degout as Chorebe and Brandon Jovanovich as Aeneas and even Veronique Gens did a turn as Hecuba. In the scenes in Carthage Ekaterina Semenchuk was a brillantly nuanced Dido, playing off lovely interpretations of Anna by Aude Extremo and Christian Van Horn as Narbal.

It is a really thought provoking evening and well worth going to see.

Scarlatti’s Il Primo Omicidio was an equal treat. Rene Jacobs has championed this work for many years and thank goodness he has. Wonderful music-ethereal, thrilling and dramatic by turns- and all the roles are so well realised. An oratorio  with only 6 parts and no chorus isn’t easy to put onto the opera stage but Romeo Castelluci handled it with some intriguing ideas. The first part had the characters- Adam, Eve, Cain, Abel, God and Lucifer on the stage with a very stripped back set. In the second half, the parts on the stage were played by children from the Opera’s children’s chorus with the main singers singing from the pit or from a box but with the children lip-synching along. It sounds very odd but it was amazingly effective. The singers were excellent with Robert Gleadow being a terrifying Lucifer- he has developed a Donald Sutherland like snarling smile. So a rarity well worth seeking out.