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Berlioz: Les Troyens [La Fura del Baus] Blu-ray Review

  • Aspect Ratio: 1.77:1
  • Video Codec: AVC/MPEG-4
  • Resolution: 1080i/60
  • Audio Codec: PCM 2.0, DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
  • Subtitles: English, German, French, Spanish, Korean, Chinese
  • Region: ABC (Region-Free)
  • Rating: Not Rated
  • Discs: 1
  • Studio: C Major
  • Blu-ray Release Date: June 28, 2011
  • List Price: $45.98

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Les Troyens (Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia) -

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Overall
[Rating:2/5]
The Performance
[Rating:2/5]
Video Quality
[Rating:4/5]
Audio Quality
[Rating:3/5]
Supplemental Materials
[Rating:3/5]

Click thumbnails for high-resolution 1920X1080p screen captures

(Screen captures are lightly compressed with lossy JPEG  thus are meant as a general representation of the content and do not fully reveal the capabilities of the Blu-ray format)


The Performance

[Rating:2/5]

One could argue, with considerable support, that Hector Berlioz was the creator of the “grand” operatic tradition. If sheer length were the criterion for grandeur, then this argument would certainly be correct. Les Troyens, with its original uncut running time approaching six hours has often been divided in two and played on separate evenings. Here, the producers have elected an abridged mere 4 hour, 10 minute version, originating from a 2009 performance at Valencia’s Palau de les Arts with the local orchestra and chorus. Musical leadership comes from the world-renowned maestro, Valery Gergiev, whose experience with this monster of an opera is considerable. The cast is led by Canadian tenor Lance Ryan (Aeneas), Portuguese soprano Elisabete Matos (Cassandra), and Italian soprano Daniela Barcellona (Dido). If you have seen any of Carlus Padrissa’s previous La Fura del Baus productions from this venue, then you will be prepared for over-the-top futuristic, think Star Wars, sets, costumes and special effects. If not, then this recreation of the ancient story of the fall of Troy, Aeneas’ escape to Carthage and romance with Queen Dido, and his eventual departure for the promised land of Italy may not fall kindly on your eyes. Musically, the production is well served by its female principals and conductor with routine contributions from the remaining cast. However, visually, the production appears to be a grand mess and conveys little of the magic of this timeless legend.

Video Quality

[Rating:4/5]

As in La Fura’s other productions, the video elements are pretty spectacular in a Cirque du Soleil manner. The sets are large mechanicals, complete with technicians, singers suspended in air and great washes of reds, oranges and blues. Special effects abound with liberal use of suspended characters. I thought that having the Trojan horse give laptops to the Greek chorus and then disseminate a “virus” was hokey. Similarly, watching the suicide of the Trojan women behind a white gauze with splashes of blood failed to convey adequately the horror of this event. What completely spoiled the evening for me was the visual concept of the Act IV Dido-Aeneas love duet. Having the lovers suspended in astronaut costumes with little physical contact,  bordered on the absurd! The recurrent parade of stage technicians, necessary to the manipulation of the complex sets, is visually distracting. Overall, the detail and color palette were quite good.

Audio Quality

[Rating:3/5]

The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 channel soundtrack clearly favors the singers which is unfortunate since the orchestral writing, Berlioz’s main strength, is undermined during the vocal sections. There is a minimal amount of ambience provided by the surround channels. From the standpoint of performance execution, Gergiev is a master at eliciting both the power and the majesty of his forces. As for the singers, both sopranos Matos and Barcellona give effective portrayals of their characters. Less good are their male counterparts, particularly tenor Ryan who is long on wind and short on subtlety. However, with all due respect, there are few, if any, heroic tenors today who could physically get through Aeneas’s enormous sing. Eric Cutler’s expressive delivery of Iopas’s Act IV area is a welcome highlight, although, why in the name of God does a dancer place a microphone stand in his face?

Supplemental Materials

[Rating:2.5/5]

There is a 20-minute short subject on the “Making of Les Troyens.” Similar to that which accompanied this troupe’s production of the Wagnerian Ring cycle, it is fascinating to see how the director put it all together even if the final result may be less than pleasing to typical operagoers.

The Definitive Word

Overall:

[Rating:2/5]

Were this the only BD release, there might be some reason to consider its purchase, as Les Troyens is not frequently performed due its extreme length and production expense. This Troyens does have the virtues of excellent musical leadership, fine singing by some of the principals, and some interesting special effects. However, if one adheres to the adage that life is short and investing several precious hours for any purpose should be rewarding, then for those who willingly wish to invest those hours in Les Troyens, there are some preferable options. First, there is a 2010 Blu-ray release from La Chatelet, led by Sir John Eliot Gardner that has even better overall singing from Anna Maria Antonacci, Susan Graham, and Gregory Kunde in the leads. This production, is also updated, but not to a garish or distracting degree. My favorite video remains the Met Opera’s Levine-led DVD with the incomparable Placido Domingo, Jessye Norman and Tatiana Troyanos. What undoes the present disc is an overall theatrical concept that distracts and detracts from Berlioz’s majestic reworking of the Iliad and Aeneid. Unfortunately, the vocalism, while generally adequate is mostly no better than that and insufficient to overcome its dramaturgical shortcomings.

Additional Screen Captures

[amazon-product]B004Y9DF4G[/amazon-product]

[amazon-product region=”uk” tracking_id=”bluraydefinit-21″]B004Y9DF4G[/amazon-product]

BestBuy.com:
Les Troyens (Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia) -

Shop for more Blu-ray titles at Amazon.com

Overall
[Rating:2/5]
The Performance
[Rating:2/5]
Video Quality
[Rating:4/5]
Audio Quality
[Rating:3/5]
Supplemental Materials
[Rating:3/5]

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