A Reference Les Troyens

Review by: Robert Levine

Artistic Quality: 9

Sound Quality: 9

Taken from live performances in London in December, 2000 (but with nary a sound from the audience), you might think that since Colin Davis previously led an almost ideal recording of the work (released in 1969) this might be superfluous. But it is far from it: As wonderful, ear-opening, awe-inspiring, and history-making as that one was–and I certainly wouldn’t want to do without it–this version is just as valuable and the casting in some roles is ever finer than before. And as far as the leadership is concerned, while I found nothing wrong with the Philips recording, Davis seems even better here; scenes lead seamlessly into one another, the score’s disparate elements (especially the alternation of light and dark, heavy and lean, languid and manic) blend easily and naturally, and the sense of the opera being somewhat of a behemoth that needs taming (which you vaguely feel in the ’69 recording) is nowhere in evidence. The LSO and Chorus have the music so firmly under their belts by now that the opera sounds like a great repertoire piece like Falstaff or Tristan–familiar but brilliant.

As Cassandra, Petra Lang is the cast’s great find. From Lang’s very first utterance–“Les Grecs ont disparu!”, spit out with venom–her obsessive nature, passion, and visionary position is clear, and she never lets up. Her duet with Corebus in the person of the spectacular Peter Mattei (who, like Lang, sings rings around his counterpart in the earlier recording) is magnificent, her suicide as startling as it should be. Berit Lindholm, the previous Cassandra, simply isn’t in the same league. Comparing Ben Heppner’s Aeneas with Jon Vickers would be a worthless task. Heppner’s bright tone, vocal security, elegance, and intelligence of phrasing and complete involvement are in a class by themselves–you hear him and think of no other singer in the role.

I was never as enamored of Josephine Veasey’s Dido in the earlier set as was the entire population of England, but Michelle DeYoung’s Dido here is problematic too: She sounds uneasy and her tone is wrong in Act 3 (although her duet with the lush Sara Mingardo as Anna is model), but she improves from there and is marvelous in her denunciation of Aeneas and in her final scene. Still, the voice is not quite the right color for the part. The two young tenors–Kenneth Tarver and Toby Spence as Iopas and Hylas, respectively–sing so beautifully that it’s a pity they haven’t more to do. The remainder of the cast is excellent and the sound is natural, clear, and clean. It’s not whether you should own this one or the Philips (and I’m avoiding Dutoit’s uneventful set on purpose); you should own both. And this one is half the price of the other.



Buy Now from Arkiv Music

Recording Details:

Reference Recording: This is it

HECTOR BERLIOZ - Les Troyens

  • Ben Heppner, Kenneth Tarver, Toby Spence (tenor)
    Petra Lang, Michelle DeYoung (mezzo-soprano)
    Sara Mingardo (alto)
    Peter Mattei (baritone)
    Stephen Milling (bass)
    others
  • Davis, Colin (conductor)
  • London Symphony Orchestra

Share This Review: