EIF opera review: Les Troyens, Edinburgh

The set was suitably epic, Troy reflected in a full-size mirror for the first part, and the blues and whites of Carthage providing a plain backdrop in the second

The set was suitably epic, Troy reflected in a full-size mirror for the first part, and the blues and whites of Carthage providing a plain backdrop in the second

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THERE was huge anticipation surrounding the Mariinsky Opera’s staging of Berlioz’s Les Troyens, which opened its Festival run on Thursday, not least because it is the first staged production in Scotland for almost 25 years of this epic two-part opera.

EIF: Opera

Les Troyens

Edinburgh Festival Theatre

Star rating: * * *

With that in mind, it had to be good, and with Greek director and designer Jannis Kokkos teaming up with music director Valery Gergiev, there was every hope it might be.

Could this experienced duo, with a cast of Russian singers and dancers, create a winning formula for such an extravagant and eccentric depiction of the sacking of Troy (Part 1) and Aeneas’ fateful dalliance with Dido in Carthage (Part 2)?

Truth be told, the results were mixed, despite the suitably epic qualities of the set – the painted city of Troy reflected on a full-size angled mirror acting as backdrop in the opening part, and the spare blues and whites of Carthage providing an effectively plain emotional soundboard to Part 2.

Far too much of Kokkos’ production was static and dull, with a tendency among its two key characters, Cassandra and Dido, to seek refuge in the “much-wailing-and-gnashing-of-teeth” school of melodrama.

This was a general problem – little sense of variable dramatic pacing to counter, and therefore act as a cohesive enhancement of Berlioz’s lustrous but compartmentalised score. The muscular ballets were insipid, almost camp.

Thankfully, in both the central females – Mlada Khudoley as Cassandra and Ekaterina Semenchuk as Dido – there was a vocal magnetism from which the other characters fed. Semenchuk’s performance, in particular, was rich and expressive. Sergey Semishkur’s Aeneas was huge in the opulent Russian tenor sense, more emotionally responsive in the later acts, but with the occasional tendency to overblow. Ekaterina Krapivini brought exceptional warmth to the role of Anna.

But what of Berlioz’s prophetic, visionary and utterly gargantuan orchestral score? The huge forces of the Mariinsky Orchestra delivered a volume and richness of low string sound that was electrifyingly visceral, but why so much untidiness in the wider ensemble? Similarly, the chorus – unexpectedly modest in size – bore a distinct tonal unevenness. That said, this performance was not a complete disappointment, for there were many singular compelling moments, and the ending was moving and momentous.

But for a production that came with big expectations, the lack of a truly broad, overarching dramatic sweep seemed a great opportunity missed.

Run ends today
Seen on 28.08.14

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