Berlioz: Les troyens

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

LABELS: Arthaus
WORKS: Les troyens
PERFORMER: Jon Villars, Deborah Polaski, Russell Braun; choirs, Orchestre de Paris, Salzburg Chamber Philharmonic/Sylvain Cambreling; dir. Herbert Wernicke (Salzburg Festival, 2000)
A single set (high white walls with just one narrow entrance) suffices here for both doomed Troy and Carthage. The Trojans wear black, mostly 20th-century clothes and are red-gloved; Aeneas’s soldiers are chic crew members of the Battleship Potemkin, carrying the latest army rifles. The Carthaginians (blue gloves) boast a more daringly cut line in women’s attire and their men in lounge suits. Physical events such as the appearance of the wooden horse and the sack of Troy are glimpsed with tantalising effect through the upstage gateway. Alexandre Tarta’s filming captures some of the scale of this but is lost in big ensemble scenes.


While Wernicke’s own designs clearly show the collision of two opposing societies when the Trojans reach Carthage, his direction of the cast goes little beyond placing them in imposing stage positions. Singing actors as powerful as Deborah Polaski (an impressive ‘doubling’ of Cassandra and Dido), Robert Lloyd (Narbal, Dido’s chief minister) and Gaele le Roi (Ascanio, Aeneas’s son, one of the few who exploits the physicality of his role) naturally swim rather than sink. Jon Villars’s Aeneas, not helped by his George Michael make-up and omnipresent gold wreath, gets round the notes of his fiendish role well enough but is thinly characterised.


Cambreling makes the score sound attractively Gluck-like – never small-boned, but more Classical than Romantic. Arthaus’s sound is as excellent in depth and balance as its booklet is wholly inadequate (no full cast, poor translations). Mike Ashman