Colin Davis’s 1969 recording remains a landmark event, the first time this grand opera of Meyerbeerian length, spectacular éclat and Wagnerian artistic ambition had found its way complete onto LP. It effectively changed views about Berlioz the opera composer and orchestral genius and has for many remained the yardstick by which all later performances have been judged. Although studio recorded, it was based on the Covent Garden casting of the day – Jon Vickers’s heroic Aeneas and Josephine Veasey’s voluptuous Dido – with a couple of Frenchmen to boost the ranks of lesser Trojans and Carthaginians…
Les Troyens is a tour de force that ranges from fiery military marches to intense choruses, passionate soliloquies and the lyrical love duets of Dido and Aeneas. For Hector Berlioz, librettist and composer, the opera became the work of decades and the passion of a lifetime, the culmination of his literary love affair with Virgil's Aeneid and with two tragic heroines, Cassandra and Dido. David McVicar's staging is on an enormous scale, assembling one of the largest casts ever seen at Covent Garden. The sweeping theme of the rise and fall of empires runs throughout Les Troyens, along with moving meditations on love and honour.
Sir John Eliot Gardiner conducts the Monteverdi Choir, Choeur du Théâtre du Châtelet and Orchestre Revolutionnaire et Romantique in a landmark recording of Berlioz's towering opera. A tragic tale of love and fate, war and peace and the intertwined destinies of two cities, the opera is based on Virgil's imperial vision of the founding myth of Rome. The American tenor Gregory Kunde as Aeneas and the Italian soprano Anna Caterina Antonacci lead an international cast in this stunning production.
Monumental operas deserve epochal stagings. And "Les Troyens" by Hector Berlioz is just such a work. This grand opera, complete with ballets, large choruses and orchestral set pieces, is just given the full treatment by famous Catalan theatre group La Fura dels Baus. Recorded at Valencia´s Palau de les Arts under the baton of the great Valery Gergiev, this coproduction with St. Petersburg´s Mariinski Theatre and Warsaw´s Wiekl Theatre is “such a feast for the eyes, a veritable orgy of optical opulence” that displays “this artist group´s sheer inexhaustible fund of imagination and creativeness” (Das Opernglas).
“Domingo's clarion (though stretched) Aeneas and Norman's passionate Cassandra are most memorable. Troyanos does not match Gardiner's Susan Graham, but Levine is admirably epic and provides the traditional finale.” BBC Music Magazine, October 2007 “A triumph” New York Daily
Kiri Te Kanawa does well by these songs, avoiding the billowing excesses of sentiment that in other hands (or vocal chords) can make them sound much too soggy. Although Berlioz gathered them all together under the present title, all of the songs were composed at different times for different singers, so they aren't really a cycle at all. I seldom listen to all of them at once, and you should feel free to take them in any order that suits you. "The Death of Cleopatra" is an early cantata that perfectly suits Jessye Norman's stately delivery. She's always at her best playing royalty, and if they're dying in mortal agony, so much the better.
Robin Ticciati cements his reputation as an outstanding Berliozian with his latest recording, ‘Berlioz: Les nuits d’été’, which includes excerpts from Roméo & Juliette and La Mort de Cléopâtre. A pupil of Sir Simon Rattle and the great Berliozian Sir Colin Davis, Robin’s reputation as one of this generation's best conductors was assured when he was announced as the next music director of Glyndebourne, taking over from Vladimir Jurowski in 2014.
Berlioz's Les nuits d'été has received some outstanding recordings over the years, prime among them those by Regine Crespin and Victoria de los Angeles. Here's a new one by Véronique Gens that belongs in their rarefied category. That should come as no surprise to admirers of her terrific Handel and French song discs. She sings with a light but expressive soprano that's fetching in itself and flexible enough to darken tones and lend emotional weight to the texts where called for. Her diction is impeccable, and the orchestral support is first-rate. The remainder of the disc is as good. The long dramatic scene, La mort de Cléopatre, is stunningly sung and played, Gens projecting the plight of the dejected queen with great intensity and vocal beauty. The three orchestral songs sparkle in Gens's renditions. The final one, "Zaïde," with its castanets and vivacious singing, will force you to keep hitting the repeat button. An unqualified recommendation!