My Year of Opera: #1 Les Troyens

In an attempt to become more versed in vocal music and music drama, I’m attempting to watch an opera/musical/music drama each week for 2013. Yesterday I plunged in with the MET HD broadcast of Les Troyens by Berlioz.

Why this opera?

While I am not a huge “opera buff” and I don’t really enjoy Romanticism, I knew that this opera was something I should prioritize. These kinds of productions don’t happen often (and they never happen in Mt. Pleasant, MI). Also, being a bit dismissive of Berlioz (I considered him a “one hit wonder” for Symphonie fantastique but I give him props for Le nuits dete, too) I wondered what 5 hours of Berlioz would sound like. Ok, actually I didn’t wonder THAT much since I bought the LSO Live recording of Les Troyens from a discount bin many years ago.

What did I like?

Wow, I really liked it. As in I loved it. I was floored at how well Berlioz balanced a thorough investigation of the characters’ emotions without being excessive. Everyone sings the thing that they sing for a reason. Characters are well established and none of the vocal writing was just fluff to pass the time (Ok, Whatshisname’s folk song to cheer up Dido was a bit frivolous but it was more important in establishing Dido’s mood).

The music was beautiful, too. Wonderfully lyrical and coherent with transitions that made sense. My brain grows weary of late Verdi’s constant stream of music. I prefer more differentiation of the “numbers.” Berlioz balanced soloists, choir, and ensembles exceptionally well. The thing never got stale. And his orchestration! Freakin’ brilliant.

I’m also close to preferring the pissed off Dido of Berlioz to the emo one in Purcell (but I do love that work). And two mass suicides in a single opera? Yowza.

This is my second time going to a MET HD broadcast and I think this was a better setup than what I saw with Nixon in China. With Nixon, I felt like the cameras were framing things too closely. I wanted to see more of the whole stage there. This editing/framing job was much better to my eyes.

What didn’t I like?

Okay, the wedding celebration non-stop ballet fest did get a little long. I was ready for the plot to move forward quicker than Berlioz was, obviously. But that is it. For a 5.5 hour production, that ain’t bad!

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