Les Troyens

Hector Berlioz

The Lyric Opera of Chicago

Ardis Krainik Theatre

From 13 November 2016 to 03 December 2016

Review by Keith Dorwick

I always attend opera with a great excitement, if not glee, depending on the offering that night, but sometimes one is close to a sense of awe. Lyric Opera of Chicago's première of Berlioz's immense grand opera Les Troyens was one of those times.

This is not only a new production but also Lyric's first scheduling of Berlioz's account of the Trojan War and also the events in Carthage after its fall. Acts three through five cover the same dramatic narrative of that of Purcell's Dido and Aeneas but here they are only part 2 of a five-act opera. The production is a total of five hours long—´╗┐but it flew by.

Lyric's production is fantastic. Every singer is right-on both vocally and dramatically: Brandon Jovanovich (Aeneas) has both a nice large tenor that could soar over a Berlioz orchestra and offstage band both playing simultaneously, and the good looks worthy of the founder of Rome and son of Venus (my only complaint of his work was that he tended to forte when piano might have done as well). He seemed a bit vocally fatigued by the end of the performance but that is a risk in an opera that requires a lead to sing in all five acts.

The rest of the cast is wonderful as well, especially Susan Graham as Dido, Christine Goerke as Cassandra and Okka von der Dameral as Dido's sister Anna, all in great voice (as is the entire cast including the superb Lyric Opera Chorus) and giving their all as performers including one lovely passage between Dido and Aeneas that is absolutely heart-breaking.

There are two young singers on which you'll want to keep your eye: Mingjie Lei (Iopas, a poet who does his best to provide entertainment to a lovesick Dido) and Jonathan Johnson (Hylas, a young Trojan who laments his lost Troy but is also eager to move on to the founding of Rome). Like other members of the cast, they are members of Lyric's training programme, the Ryan Opera Center; their fresh voices and technical skills bode well for the future. As always, Sir Andrew Davis's conducting is thoughtful and deeply moving, revealing the many colours of Berlioz's seldom-heard score.

And all the cast (again, including the chorus) is in fine dramatic form as well, thanks to director Tim Albery's work. In fact, it's a rare production that makes such great use of the chorus as part of the stage picture. Rather than the all too usual chorus standing in a great semicircle and singing for what can feel like days rather than hours, here individual members of the chorus are given small movements that constantly refresh the stage picture without being at all distracting.

Finally, the technical aspects are magical, with a rotating set that again constantly changes the stage picture without being distracting and projections that are breathtakingly gorgeous.

It's a rare thing to see Les Troyens at all. It is great to have seen it in such a magnificent production.