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Saturday, February 25, 2017

Les Troyens in Frankfurt

Care of composer Daniel Wolf, here's a link to a video feature, with performance footage and some yakking, about the Frankfurt Opera's current production of Les Troyens. It's redundant if I say I wish I could see it, because as you all know, I wish I could see any pretty much complete production of the opera. (I will pass on the badly-cut Dusapin "performing edition." I mean, I can imagine the damage done by hacking out more than an hour of the score.)

There are some production photos as well. I'm confused by a photo captioned Hylas, Hecuba, and Cassandre; perhaps that should read Helenus, a short tenor role appearing only in the Troy scenes.

7 comments:

Robert Gordon said...

This looks like the thing you joked about: a provincial Troyens. I'm not crazy about the design, which strikes me as, well, provincial, and anyway I think unit sets do the piece a disservice (but I like the Horse). On the other hand, based on what appears in those clips, this has been produced with a lot of commitment and understanding. So good for Frankfurt!

And John Nelson! He was the conductor of the first performance I ever saw, at the Met in 1973. Rafael Kubelik was out sick for a couple of nights and Nelson, who had prepared the chorus, stepped in. I thought he was excellent at the time, and I'm sure he is even better now. He is an insufficiently-sung hero in the Berlioz revival. In 1972 he was the music director of a chorale in New Jersey, and he put together a concert performance of Troyens, uncut and using the New Berlioz Edition, which included a run-out night at Carnegie Hall (Evelyn Lear and Richard Cassilly were Didon and Enée). It was the NYC premier, about a month after Sarah Caldwell's US premier in Boston, and the first time the New York critics, including Harold Schonberg, had heard the piece -- they were as astonished as you would hope. The Berlioz chapter in Schonberg's Great Composers book is heavily influenced by that performance.

In the years since, Nelson has continued the good work. For example, he led a terrific Berlioz Requiem with the SF Symphony at the Opera House -- the best I've heard, marred only by the usual mistake of spreading the extra brass around the hall rather than around the stage.

So I too wish I could have seen the Frankfurt performance.

Lisa Hirsch said...

That is all really interesting! I need to look up Schonberg's review.

Frankfurt is central enough and important enough that in European terms, I do not think it can be called provincial, even though it is not one of the MOST important opera companies in Europe (or Germany). The singing sounds very good to me; the personnenregie is well thought through. Some of the singers have international careers. The orchestra sounds good.

Lisa Hirsch said...

Should mention that Daniel Wolf, who tipped me off, would have recognized a provincial production and did not have any qualms about this one. (He loves Berlioz too.)

Lisa Hirsch said...

I took a look at the Times archive and found a couple of interesting things.

A1952 review of what must have been a heavily cut 3 LP recording with Scherchen conducting. The reviewer writes about Berlioz's failure as an operatic dramatist and compares Troyens unfavorably to Purcell's Dido & Aeneas. That strikes me as a foolish comparison of two VERY different works.

Second, in 1959-60, Beecham put together a two-concert performance of the work, with Troy in one and Carthage in the other. He was not ultimately able to conduct. Eleanor Steber was Cassandre!

Robert Gordon said...

My source for this kind of information is the volume on Troyens in the Cambridge Opera Handbook series: by Ian Kemp, published in 1988. I don't know if it's still in print, but it's worth hunting down -- it's really excellent. And it has a list of productions to date in an appendix. This includes the performance initiated by Beacham, and in actuality conducted by Robert Lawrence. I think I read somewhere that Beacham conducted it in D.C., and Lawrence when it reached Carnegie Hall, but I'm not sure of that. There is a recording, perhaps originally a bootleg:

http://www.arkivmusic.com/classical/Name/Robert-Lawrence/Conductor/57717-3

This is 3 CDs, 3:15 hours, so it is clearly somewhat cut. But the cast is fascinating: Steber, Regina Resnick, Richard Cassilly, and Martial Singher as Chorebe. I've never heard it.

Lisa Hirsch said...

I took the time at lunch to read through the reviews of both the Carnegie Hall concerts - yes, Beecham conducted in DC, but for both the NY concerts he was suffering from gout and could not conduct.

The reviewer, Howard Taubman, is mezzo-mezzo on the singing, though he clearly liked Steber. He was not too happy with Resnik, though Lawrence pretty good. He does not comment on cuts, but he does say that he heard the whole thing in one night at Covent Garden (the Kubelik run in 1958? 59?). I don't know how much that was cut, if at all.

Lastly, Tabuman states that Troyens works better as a concert work than on stage. This makes me wonder about the quality of the ROH staging, which I think was directed by Gielgud.

By the way, in the Times, way way back, there was a passing mention of the 1890 Karlsruhe performance that was the first time the whole thing was done in one night.

I do need to get the Cambridge Opera Handbook volume.

Robert Gordon said...

The Karlsruhe performances, conducted by Felix Mottl, are important: the stage premier of Part I, the first performances of Part II since the initial run, the first time both parts were done together, however in German, and on two consecutive evenings. Cambridge Handbook p. 182: "The production was revived often during the next eleven years, with some of the performances on one day" -- afternoon and evening, perhaps? Anyway, this was the real premier of Les Troyens.