Francesca Zambello's new staging of Les Troyens was given its premiere to rave reviews at the Metropolitan Opera in 2003, when the New York Times called it "a visually stunning, seamlessly flowing, and emotionally involving realization of Berlioz's inspired…retelling of Virgil's Aeneid." Now, almost a decade later, the French composer's monumental Trojan War epic returns to the Met for its first revival, opening on December 13 for seven performances.
Led by Met Principal Conductor Fabio Luisi, the revival boasts grand-scale musical forces and a stellar cast headed by soprano Deborah Voigt, reprising her star turn as Trojan prophetess Cassandra, the role in which she triumphed in the production's opening run; mezzo Susan Graham singing her first Met performances as Berlioz's Dido, doomed queen of Carthage; and tenor Marcello Giordani making his house role debut as her lover, Aeneas of Troy. The December 23 and 26 performances will be streamed live on the Met's website, www.metopera.org, and January 5, the closing night, will be transmitted live to movie theaters in the Met's Live in HD series, now seen in almost 2,000 cinemas in 64 countries around the world.
Berlioz himself considered Les Troyens ("The Trojans," 1858) "a great work, greater and nobler than anything done hitherto," but almost a full century would pass before the opera was staged in its entirety. As one of his biographers reports, it was all too often dismissed as "a great sprawling white elephant,…beautiful in patches but…quite unstageable…because of its length." The triumph of Zambello's production was in helping to put this negative assessment to rest. Praising "its lush melodies, nervous rhythms, and heroic marches" the Associated Press judged Les Troyens "an enthralling,…amazing work." In the New York Times, Anthony Tommasini confessed: "All the contrary strands of Berlioz's work come together miraculously in this music. … In this production and this performance, it seemed an inexorable work of genius."
Despite the excellence of the original Met/Zambello cast, Deborah Voigt's performance as the cursed visionary Cassandra was repeatedly singled out for praise. "Voigt used her dramatic soprano with great artistry, unleashing fearsome torrents of sound in her hysterical outbursts, yet reining in her voice during her few tender moments," observed the Associated Press. The Baltimore Sun added: "Voigt's gleaming soprano made Cassandra sympathetic and arresting," while the New York Times concluded: "Ms. Voigt brought her customary blend of burnished power and pliant lyricism to her work. And Zambello has emboldened her to give a physically rigorous and emotionally unfettered performance."
Grammy Award-winner Susan Graham has been described as "unbeatable in French repertoire" (Time Out New York), and according to the Associated Press, she "has the ideal voice for Berlioz." Like Voigt, the mezzo is no stranger to the role she will inhabit in the Met's revival, having already been celebrated for her portrayal of Berlioz's Dido at the Paris Châtelet, where it was recorded live.