Berlioz’s Les Troyens isn’t the sort of challenge a company normally revives mid-season, sandwiched between Aida and Un ballo in maschera. The opera – actually two inter-related operas – sprawls well over five hours, aspires to mythological profundity, requires massive choral and orchestral forces, dabbles in balletic divertissement and makes unreasonable demands on a presumably high-powered cast. Yet here it was at the Met, looking awful and sounding uneven.
Although no one would claim that the composer’s libretto, based on Virgil’s Aeneid, is a propulsive masterpiece, Francesca Zambello’s staging, first and last seen in 2003, manages to accentuate the negative. Given a semi-abstract unit-set by Maria Bjørnson, it plods along, cluttering the narrative with endless parades and irrelevant detail. Everyone makes unison gestures on cue, usually arms stretched in the air. Everyone comes and goes, rises and falls, runs and struts, poses and preens without apparent motivation. When intimacy beckons – in the exquisite “Nuit d’ivresse” duet, for instance – the director creates clunky, overpopulated tableaux. Doug Varone’s busy-busy choreographic routines hinder more than they help.
Even in the best of times, Les Troyens courts longueurs. On this occasion, especially in La prise de Troie, tedium threatened to become chronic. Ever efficient, Fabio Luisi enforced a reasonable semblance of cohesion in the pit, but the playing was patchy, the dynamism dull. Urgency was enhanced in Les Troyens à Carthage; still, time hardly moved swiftly.
The role of Cassandra seems to lie low for Deborah Voigt’s now somewhat threadbare soprano, and she was awkwardly partnered by Dwayne Croft, who sang Coroebus despite indisposition. Marcello Giordani tried bravely, also loudly, to cope with the heroic thrust and lofty tessitura of Aeneas. Susan Graham brought keen compulsion to the plaints of Dido despite occasionally edgy tone. Karen Cargill exuded sympathy as Anna, Eric Cutler soared as Iopas, Kwangchul Youn grumbled darkly as Narbal, and Paul Appleby sang Hylas sweetly. Everyone worked hard, but in vain, to validate a performance predicated on much pomp and little circumstance.