Thursday, July 23, 2015

Les Troyens: 3.5

Tickets and program

After some back and forth with myself, I took Wednesday, July 1, off work and went to the last Troyens performance. I also dragged a friend there, which involved offering her my ticket in the Dress Circle, buying one of two remaining seats in the orchestra, and getting my girlfriend on the phone with her to tell her that she had to go. 

At the end of the performance, she looked at me and said "Let's plan a trip to Vienna," which of course is where the McVicar production is headed next (as far as we know, because who knows which production Chicago is doing next fall). And also "I have a new favorite opera." My life's work might be done.

I also took my tickets to the next-to-last Figaro and swapped it for Troyens tickets for friends who didn't have the budget to see it. I mean, how could I not? Those signs outside the opera house saying "Once in a lifetime" might be right, given how expensive it is to stage. But I also think that this run proved that there is an audience for the opera, which is as it should be. As far as I can tell, from having looked at the ticketing page for each performance, it was pretty close to a sellout.

About that last performance: yes, Bryan Hymel did sing it, and yes, he was in great form, and so was everybody else. It was a breathtakingly great performance, with everyone giving their all, one of those performances everyone who attended will be remembering decades from now. 

I think having Hymel on stage was certainly part of it, given his star quality and magnificent singing, but also, it was the last performance of a great run, and it was an OperaVision night, with the cameras rolling. 

OperaVision exists partly to provide a closer view for the balcony audience, which is pretty damn far away from the stage, and also to capture video for possible TV or movie theater screenings. The company uses the system for three performances of each run. For Troyens, they filmed 1, 2, and 6. Presumably, they'd use primarily performances 1 and 6, because the second performance was one of those where Cassandre was sung by Michaela Martens. I saw that, and she was excellent, but Antonacci is one of the stars, so they'd use 1 or 6 for the Troy scenes with Cassandre, meaning....most of the two acts.

The company has been able to broadcast several operas each season on KQED for the last few years. Troyens has the disadvantage of taking up four hours of air time, and the advantage of being a great, great opera given a terrific run of performances. So we'll see if it turns up on TV. I certainly hope so.


Robert Gordon said...

Wait, I thought it was my life's work.

Really, though, it has been very exciting for me to see an obsession that I've been nursing for over 40 years spread to the larger opera public, at least in the Bay Area.

And on the whole, I think this was the best performance of the opera that I have seen: although I've seen better performances of each of the three leads (Jon Vickers, Jessye Norman or Shirley Verrett, Tatiana Troyanos or Lorraine Hunt Lieberson), I've never seen all three on such a high level, and I've never seen such a strong secondary cast -- Brian Mulligan, Sasha Cooke, and René Barbera all showed what a huge difference that makes.

Also, the choreography (re-staged from the La Scala performances, not from the original London run) was, well, the least inadequate of any in my experience -- at least it was actual ballet. I'd still like to see what a real master of narrative dance (Mark Morris, Alexei Ratmansky, even Matthew Bourne) could do for this opera. One thing is clear to me: the better the choreography, the better the dance music sounds.

I would love to see a video of that last performance, but the fact that the London version is already out on DVD and Blu-ray (with two of the principals the same) works against a second release of the same production. If so, too bad!

By the way, Lisa, are you aware of The Hector Berlioz Website ( This is an amazingly extensive and professional fan site developed by a married couple based in Edinburgh, with deep connections to the UK Berlioz establishment, the New Berlioz Edition, and the Berlioz Museum (in the family home in La Côte-Saint-André). I'm not aware of anything else like it.

JSC said...

That last performance certainly was something special. I had found out the night before, via our daily schedule, that Bryan Hymel was slated to sing but I told myself to not get my hopes up too high until the lights had dimmed and no announcement had been made. Once at the opera house, my heart raced and I had an "oh no!" moment when I saw that white slip of paper peeking out of the programs being handed out as my ticket was being scanned. You can imagine the feeling of joy and relief when I pulled it out and read it was not about Hymel but about chorister Ann Hughes' retirement after a glorious career with the company. :-)

Lisa Hirsch said...

I had EXACTLY that reaction when I saw the insert!! I was so happy to see what it was! I thought it was really lovely to have Ann taking bows with the cast. And thank you for the reminder, because I'd meant to say something about her career and totally forgot.

Haha. Rob, it's more general opera evangelism for me, but I have joined the league of Troyens obsessives in part thanks to you (and in part thanks to M. Berlioz, and in part thanks to that cast and conductor and chorus) and I'm happy to have dragged another person along on the trip.

Yes, the luxury casting went a very long way - the other big opera I've seen where that made a huge difference was the Met HD broadcast of Boris a few years ago, which was packed with first-class singers, most of them Russian, and I sat there thinking "At SFO, those roles would have been filled by Adler Fellows." I'm glad they didn't go that route; as it was, the couple of Adler Fellows on stage (Chong Wang as Hylas and maybe the two sentries) were wonderful.

The least inadequate choreography, sigh, yes. I wish they would get rid of the model of Carthage and free up the whole stage for the dancers, and the ballet music in the Troy scenes was not used for ballet. You are so right about the impact a great choreographer might have on the production.

I don't think there will be a DVD release of this production, but if it's shown on TV, ahem, I will get a DVR for the occasion.

Yes, thank you, I have seen The Hector Berlioz Web Site. It is wonderful.