All thanks for this gem go to our friend from Chicago
This was the first complete (and now there is an even MORE complete Davis recording) set of this wonderful opera. Before Beecham and Davis recorded it, this opera had to undergo a very large-scale demystification process. The myths surrounding this opera were bigger than the opera itself, and nowhere half as noble. Rumor had it that the opera was “impossible”. It is not impossible, and it is certainly not as difficult to stage as any of the Wagner operas. But Berlioz had few real champions, while Wagner had legions. So the “impossible” was really a prejudice, and it took conductors like Beecham, Munch, and Davis to bring Berlioz back from the crypt of obscurity. And what we rediscovered was a titan of music.
Composer: Hector Berlioz
Performer: Josephine Veasey, Jon Vickers, Berit Lindholm
Orchestra: Orchestra Of The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden
Conductor: Colin Davis
Number of discs: 5
DR-Analysis: DR 14
Size: 4.86 GB
For much of the 19th and early 20th century the music of Berlioz was considered an in joke in musical circles. Outside of the Symphonie Fantastique and perhaps Harold in Italy, most of the composer’s works were relegated to the dustbins of history. This was especially true of his operas, which were considered old fashioned and failures. But around 1960 the tables began to turn. Sir Colin Davis and a small group of other conductors spearheaded a Berlioz revival in Britain and America, rescuing many of Berlioz’ greatest works from oblivion. Perhaps the biggest feat of rescue was this seminal recording of Berlioz’ masterwork, Les Troyens.
Berlioz had a life long love affair with Virgil and particularly with his Carthaginian heroine Dido. Les Troyens is his paean to Dido and to classical civilization in general. The opera is in the traditional French five-act form. The first two acts concern the downfall of Troy and center around the figure of Cassandra, the prophet who is given the gift of second sight but the curse never to be believed. From the outset, Berlioz is a master of the dramatic set piece. The opera opens with Trojans rushing to the plain in front of the city, celebrating the seeming retreat of the Greeks. The music is jubilant and even a little vulgar….so that the dramatic entry of Cassandra and her powerful aria is all the more highlighted. Cassandra is a vocally terrifying role. She only is present in the first two acts, and yet she dominates these acts completely. Berit Lindholm is phenomenal in the role, her voice powerful and yet capable of the tender turns of phrase the role requires when Cassandra remembers her husband Corebus.
The last three acts concern the love affair between Dido and Aeneas. Much of this music is grand, in the best French sense. Court scenes abound, there is a fourth act ballet, the justly famous Royal Hunt and Storm, and long, aching love duets between the principals. Once again, the female role dominates, Though Aeneas gets a wonderful, dramatic and musical treatment by the incomparable Jon Vickers, it’s Dido with whom you feel sympathy….the composer did as well. Josephine Veasey is a wonder, simply breathtaking.
The opera is expertly conducted by Sir Colin Davis and the Orchestra of Covent Garden. Davis is one of the least appreciated conductors of his generation. He does not have the charisma of a Karajan or a Bernstein, but he makes up for it in taste, balance, and a fierce and self-effacing dedication to the composer’s intentions. Les Troyens has become increasingly popular in the last 30 years, and there is some competition, particularly on DVD. The Met production from 1983 is quite good vocally, though the staging is uninspired at best and laughable at worst. But even with the likes of Tatianna Troyanos and Jessye Norman, that production doesn’t hold a candle vocally or musically to Davis’ original. Even Davis’ own newer recording doesn’t compare vocally. This is the version of this masterpiece to get. Berlioz’ world in this piece is unique and beautiful and will give you endless hours of enjoyment.
Jon Vickers is wonderful as Aeneas; opulent and strongly voiced, without being thick. Berit Lindhold and Josephine Veasey are great as well…though admittedly some moments have them in thick voice. They sound confident and strong, but sometimes consternated. The chorus sounds brilliant.
Colin Davis brings the Royal Hunt and Storm to life…orchestral declamations, and chorus telling Aeneas to leave Carthage. It’s a very colourful and dramatic scene that never fails me. It makes for a great listen as a single orchestral piece -just like Ride of the Valkyries does…but both these famous scenes are far better with the voices.
As far as sound goes, there is nothing to complain about. There are a few instances of certain persons being placed far back in the sound, but in these instances it is dramatically appropriate to do so for the opera’s sake.
I like to equate the difficulty level of this opera with Wagner’s “Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg”. Wagner’s longest single opera was the first opera I got really involved with. I’ve found myself surprised that many people find it his toughest opera…for me it is his easiest. But the thing about Berlioz’s Les Troyen, and Wagner’s opera is that they both require you to delve into the libretto.
I suggest listening to this opera often. Listen to certain scenes at a time, if it suits you. If you find it hard to listen to because of the length, I especially recommend working at it in this way. After you’ve familiarized yourself with it, no doubt you will agree with me that it is par with any Wagner opera.
Analyzed folder: /96k Berlioz – Les Troyens – Colin Davis
DR Peak RMS Filename
DR14 -1.21 dB -20.44 dB sideA.aif
DR14 -1.72 dB -21.01 dB sideB.aif
DR13 -0.77 dB -18.90 dB sideC.aif
DR13 -0.93 dB -19.36 dB sideD.aif
DR14 -0.86 dB -20.24 dB sideE.aif
DR13 -1.23 dB -20.52 dB sideF.aif
DR17 -1.11 dB -23.34 dB sideG.aif
DR16 -1.13 dB -22.96 dB sideH.aif
DR14 -0.82 dB -20.84 dB sideI.aif
DR14 -0.65 dB -19.84 dB sideJ.aif
Number of files: 10
Official DR value: DR14
- Chorus – Wandsworth School Boys’ Choir
- Chorus Master [Covent Garden] – Douglas Robinson
- Chorus Master [Wandsworth] – Russell Burgess
- Clarinet [Soloist] – Ian Herbert
- Conductor – Colin Davis*
- Ensemble – Chorus And Orchestra Of The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden
- Violin [Concert Master] – Charles Taylor (2)
- Vocals [Baritone: Corebus] – Peter Glossop
- Vocals [Bass: 1st Sentry] – Raimund Herincx
- Vocals [Bass: 2nd Sentry] – Dennis Wicks
- Vocals [Bass: Narbal] – Roger Soyer
- Vocals [Bass: Panthus] – Anthony Raffell
- Vocals [Bass: Priam] – Pierre Thau
- Vocals [Contralto: Anna] – Heather Begg
- Vocals [Mezzosoprano: Ascanius] – Anne Howells
- Vocals [Mezzosoprano: Hecuba] – Elizabeth Bainbridge
- Vocals [Mezzosoprano; Dido] – Josephine Veasey
- Vocals [Soprano: Cassandra] – Berit Lindholm
- Vocals [Tenor: Aeneas] – Jon Vickers
- Vocals [Tenor: Helenus] – David Lennox
- Vocals [Tenor: Hylas] – Ryland Davies
- Vocals [Tenor: Iopas] – Ian Partridge
- RCM: Okki Nokki (L’art du son, Clearaudio’s Diamond Cleaner)
- TT: Vintage (1982) Yamaha PX-3
Cartridge: Sumiko Black Bird
- Cartridge: ZYX 50R Bloom
- Phono amp: Audio Research SP15 own tube phono section
- ADC/DAC: RME Fireface UC
- Pre Amp: Audio Research SP15
- Finals: Opera Consonance 9.9 Mono (Tube)
- Speakers: Dali Helikon 400
- Connections: MIT Terminator, Audioquest Emerald, Audioquest Quartz
- Software: iZotope RX 4 Advanced, Adobe Audition CS 5.5, Twisted Wave 1.9
- Super light de-clicking with iZotope, significant clicks manually removing, no de-noising
- DR-Analisys before converting to Flac
- Converting Wave -> Flac: Twisted Wave 1.9
- Artwork: Sony Alpha 350, Epson Perfection V750 Pro, Photoshop CS 5.5
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