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
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.