John R. Pierce

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100 Essential Classical Recordings
Les Troyens
by Hector Berlioz

Metropolitan Opera, New York
Monday evening February 17, 2003, at 6:30 p.m.

Conductor:  James Levine
Production:  Francesca Zambello
Set Designer:  Maria Bjørnson
Costume Designer:  Anita Yavich
Lighting Designer:  James F. Ingalls
Choreographer:  Doug Varone

Partial listing of cast:
Deborah Voigt (Cassandre)
Dwayne Croft (Chorèbe)
Ben Heppner (Énée)
Jossie Pérez (Ascagne)

Lorraine Hunt Lieberson
Elena Zaremba (Anna)
Robert Lloyd (Narbal)
Matthew Polenzani (Iopas)
Gregory Turay (Hylas)

I traveled to New York on Monday February 17, 2003, to attend a performance of
Les Troyens at the Metropolitan Opera.

I arrived in New York at about 1:30 p.m. for a 6:30 p.m. performance.  There was roughly two feet of snow on the ground.  Walking was a little difficult, although people were doing a good job of shoveling sidewalks and plowing streets.  Some stores had closed because of the weather. 

I had some “vegetarian” lasagna at the Olympic Flame Diner.  I then thought that I might see a movie, but none of the times seemed convenient when I arrived at the multiplex near Lincoln Center.  I killed some time looking at compact discs at Tower Records until about four o’clock.  I did not know what to do with myself, and I decided to splurge and have dinner at the Opera House.  A duck salad, with slices of duck resembling bacon, was a delicious appetizer.  For the main course I had a chicken breast with a cider sauce, some very tasty small Brussels sprouts, and pieces of what I think was eggplant, with a side of very creamy mashed potatoes.   I finished with an espresso and no dessert.

The opera was sold out, but there were a number of empty seats because of the bad weather.  I would guess that maybe two to four per cent of the seats were empty.  We got photocopies in lieu of program booklets, because the program booklets had not been delivered.

There was a substitution in the role of Helenus, but neither of the names meant anything to me.  Helenus is a very minor character.

An announcement was made from the stage before the performance, to the effect that Dwayne Croft had sinusitis, but was singing nonetheless and prayed indulgence.

Deborah Voigt was quite impressive as Cassandre.  Her voice sounded good and carried well.  Her French was clear, and she created an interesting character, much more interesting than her Ariadne auf Naxos.

I found no fault with Dwayne Croft as Chorèbe, despite his announced indisposition.

Ben Heppner was good as Énée.  I have never been a fan of his.  I do not find his voice pleasant or interesting. Isn’t it generally the point of singing to be pleasant or interesting?  Or is it supposed to be more than enough to hit the notes and pronounce the sounds?  Having lost weight, he looked better.  It seemed to me that he missed one of the notes in the
Nuit d’ivresse duet.

Lorraine Hunt Lieberson was the star of the evening for me, and for much of the audience, to judge from the applause at the end of the performance.  Her voice was beautiful at times, and always pleasant at the very least.  She created a very moving and convincing character.  She was also quite striking in appearance, and looked good in the costumes.

Each of two tenors, Matthew Polenzani as Iopas and Gregory Turay as Hylas, excelled in their solo moments.

I enjoyed seeing the ballets, and I would have found the opera incomplete without them.

The physical production was good enough, I suppose, but could have been better.  In some ways it was a little tacky.

The Trojan warriors and royalty wore colorful, largely purple and orange, outfits, vaguely ancient in appearance, but that also might work in
Otello.  The more ordinary Trojans dressed like extras in Zorba the Greek.  The Greek soldiers dressed like ancient Greek soldiers!  Troy appeared to be a dark and rocky place.  The Trojans made a practice of lighting a fire in a small  shallow pit, for reasons unclear to me.  The fire did add an element of suspense to the drama.  Were the characters going to set their robes on fire accidentally as they walked near the pit?

The Carthaginians dressed like members of a religious cult, mostly in white outfits, but sometimes with varying amounts of purple.  For interior design, they aspired to the decor of a 1960’s low-budget sci-fi movie about outer space. A round raised area served as a model of the city, as a platform for the queen’s seat, and as an area for lounging on large throw pillows.  They liked walls of a material resembling glass brick.

The orchestra and chorus performed well, under James Levine’s baton.   The chorus’s French was especially clear for such a large group.

On the whole, I found the performance thoroughly moving and enjoyable.