Thursday, July 16, 2015

Cut Sheet

The recent SF Opera performances of Les Troyens lasted around 5 hours, including two intermissions totaling nearly an hour, so, four hours of music. The evening performances all started at 6 p.m. so that everybody could head out around 11 p.m.

Back in the 1960s, the company performed the work in three seasons.  Those performances started at 8 p.m., which is when typical three-hour opera performances generally started then. Let's assume that they ended around 11:30 and had two intermissions totaling 45 minutes, although I do not have timings for these performances. These assumptions imply an opera with less than three hours of music.

What could they have possibly cut? Well, I don't know for sure, but here is some speculation, after which I will ask.

  • Ballet music. I myself would start here, with the dances in Act III by the laborers, the farmers, and the builders. There's a ballet in Act IV someplace before "Nuit d'ivresse." 
  • But I hope they wouldn't cut the Royal Hunt & Storm, the best-known ten minutes of the opera, despite Berlioz's staging demands. Only the terrible Choudens score was available then, so I'm also curious about the placement of the Royal Hunt & Storm: at the beginning or end of Act IV?
  • You could cut a verse here and there from various arias and duets, perhaps from the Didon/Anna duet in Act III. You could cut a verse from "Nuit d'ivresse," but I hope not, and possibly shorten the extremely long introduction to the scene.
  • There is a little slack in the grand ceremonies of Act I; it might occur to some that you could remove the scene with Andromache and her son, who never sing a word. 
  • I've heard some of a heavily-cut French concert performance that made some startling cuts in Act I. Well, startling if you've only heard this work uncut, anyway.


Anonymous said...

From the Cambridge Opera Guide, page 185:

"A production first heard in Lyons in 1958 was probably the most truncated ever made, despite which it was presented with minor variations elsewhere in Europe and in Buenos Aires and San Francisco. Made by Lou Bruder to enable his wife Régine Crespin to sing both Cassandra and Dido in the same evening, the version omitted as many as eighteen numbers and had internal cuts in about half those remaining."

The list of performances in the Cambridge Guide (page 222) refers to these performances, not as "cut", but as "condensed (Bruder)".

If you look at the cast lists in the SF Opera Archives, you will see that there are separate lists for parts 1 and 2. For the 1966 performances, with Vickers, only one cast member is listed for part 1: Cassandra. For the 1968 performances, with Guy Chauvet, part 1 has a fuller list (but no Chorèbe or Andromache). So I assume that in 1966 part 1 consisted only of the numbers that involve Cassandra and/or the chorus: her aria, the entrance of the Horse, and the scene of the Trojan women's suicide. The 1968 performances must have added the Laocoon ensemble, since that's the only place Hecuba sings, but conceivably nothing else.

The 2-LP set of excerpts with Crespin and Chauvet, conducted by Georges Pretre, might actually represent approximately what was performed on stage. Anyway, I'm sure the audience came away thinking, a lot of great music, but an incoherent plot.

Lisa Hirsch said...

Wow. A fifty percent reduction. That is astonishing.

I've heard some of the Crespin excerpts, which I'd consider essential listening, given her greatness in all things French. She's really stunning in them.

I will send my question in to SFO. No idea what kind of archive they have for these performances. Might be possible to get copies of reviews from the Chron & Ex, even if I have to resort to microfilm.

JSC said...

It's only a little over 2 mins of music, but I know that the two times I saw it (6/25 Bix and 7/1 Hymel) the middle verse of Aenas' Act 5 aria, beginning with 'Ah quand viendra l'instant des supremes adieux", was cut.

I've listened to that particular aria so much over the years that I follow along in my head word for word so it really surprised me that first night when he went right from "J'ai fui de son regard la terrible eloquence" into "En un dernier naufrage". Upon leaving the performance that night and talking it over with friends, I thought I might've been going crazy as they swore they remembered hearing the "Didon...pardon" part. However, a couple days later I confirmed with an acquaintance in the orchestra (and with my own ears the next week via my second viewing) that it was indeed cut.

I'm eager to read what the SFO tells you when you ask them.