What a difference a venue and a change of format can make. Following its underwhelming run at the Royal Opera House, and freed from both orchestra pit and the confines of David McVicar’s lacklustre production, the Royal Opera’s Proms performance of Les Troyens was simply electrifying. It rivalled Colin Davis’s monumental 2003 LSO concert performance for sheer excitement, and there can be no higher praise than that.
While at Covent Garden much of the playing had seemed sluggish and under-powered (on the first night at least), here there was a clarity, detail and impetus that was staggering. Episodes such as the Royal Hunt and Storm, which went for nothing on stage, were thrilling and the Act 4 extended ballet sequence, interminable and dramatically inert before, came to vibrant life when isolated from the mediocre choreography.
There was a danger that the power of Berlioz’ orchestrations would swamp the singers once the orchestra was unleashed but, for the most part, the balance was perfect. When not supporting the vocal lines, Antonio Pappano’s players tore the hall apart, with the Royal Opera Chorus also on top form.
Without the histrionic direction that had previously hampered her, Anna Caterina Antonacci was a riveting Cassandre. Bryan Hymel, impressive in the theatre as Énée, was here even stronger; a truly heroic performance that earned the only solo round of applause of the evening. Eva-Maria Westbroek may not be ideal casting for Didon, lacking the refinement of a Susan Graham or even Michelle DeYoung for Davis, but she has great presence and commitment, while among the many excellent supporting performances, Ed Lyon as Hylas and Hannah Hipp’s Anna stood out.
At this early stage of the season, following last week’s Pelléas et Mélisande, and with ENO’s Peter Grimes and Glyndebourne’s new Figaro still to come, this is already proving a vintage year for opera performance at the Proms.
- Simon Thomas