Les Troyens, Opera by H. Berlioz
Hector Berlioz is noted for the visceral emotionality and strong narrative quality of his music. What others did with words and décor, the French composer could achieve merely with the power and uniqueness of his melodies and his avant-garde orchestration. Berlioz’s epic stage work Les Troyens exemplifies his unique style, and the Vienna State Opera offers a rare opportunity to see the work in its completeness.
In 1854, Hector Berlioz finally found stability in his hitherto turbulent life. As a newly minted member of the Institute, a French honorary academy which offered him a generous annual allowance, the composer could create music free from commercial or political pressures. To mark his newly found freedom, Berlioz crafted Les Troyens, a grand opera of epic proportions.
Always in complete control of the creative process, Berlioz developed the libretto himself, using Virgil’s Aeneid as basis. However, many of the composer’s other lyrical paragons found their way in his retelling of the love story between Aeneas and Dido. William Shakespeare’s textual and theatrical influence is especially palpable throughout the opera.
Musically, Les Troyens brinks on the superhuman: the cast calls for two female leads with outstanding dramatic and vocal ability to portray Dido and Cassandra as well as a male tenor with extraordinary control and power in the high register for the role of Aeneas. The choir’s lines are supple and agile, like arias in their own right. Aeneas and Dido’s love duet 'Nuit d’ivresse' as well as the 'Trojan March' tank among the standout numbers.
Berlioz completed Les Troyens in 1858 as a grand opera in five acts. Due to its length and technical as well as musical requirements, the Paris Opera hesitated to stage it for years. Frustrated, Berlioz commissioned a premiere of acts three to five at the much smaller Théâtre Lyrique on 4 November 1863. Despite substantial cuts to accommodate the smaller venue and more modest cast, Les Troyens was a success, though it left its author dissatisfied.
In the coming decades, Berlioz continued struggling with the challenge of staging Les Troyens the way he envisaged it. The opera’s first complete performance came only after the composer’s death, and few operas have taken the challenge to date.
Seeing Les Troyens is a unique, profoundly moving experience. This season, make sure you don’t miss the Wiener Staatsoper’s production!