Home | Reviews | Articles | Festivals | Competitions | Other | Contact Us
Berlioz The Trojans at Carthage English National Opera, Coliseum, London, 16 May 2003

"Very little of Hugh MacDonald's English translation was audible. The answer is not surtitles but for someone to make sure the cast sings words." (Andrew Clements Saturday May 10, 2003 The Guardian)

That quote persuades me to write a short note on The Trojans at Carthage, its newest visual representation of this great Berlozian tribute to ancient Greek classical myth having failed to impress me in ENO's 'contemporary' rendition.

For years, in several publications, I have continued to advocate surtitles (which are easily ignored if you don't like them and know the words) for opera in the vernacular, as well as being essential for opera in languages foreign to ticket buyers - a principle accepted for Covent Garden's international audiences.

One neglected factor in the reviewing equation, for concerts as for opera, is any indication of where the critic is located; seating position is a crucial variable rarely allowed for in categoric critical statements, seemingly of fact. I have railed against inaudibility in some parts of the Coliseum - unrelated to ticket price (particularly difficult to hear words centre circle - and seating positions go some way towards explaining divergent critical appraisals from concert venues too.

So, I write to tell you that having been disappointed with inaudible words of The Capture of Troy from mid-circle, I am delighted to note that from stalls O3&4 (the back corner) the clarity of word projection was exemplary. Indeed, the whole sound was well balanced and the musical aspects of the performance generally admirable. I enjoyed the singing of Susan Parry, John Dazsak, Anna Burford & Clive Bayley, and in smaller parts Christopher Saunders as Hylas and Toby Stafford-Allen & Graeme Danby providing much needed light relief as the Shakespearean sentries. The orchestra did well for Paul Daniel and it was good to have a full chorus which this work demands.

But I have little to add to what has been written about the fussy staging and the contemporary down-market costuming, which left me nostalgic for the original UK Kubelik production at ROH, with a proper cave (not a little trap door centre stage) and magnificent regal hounds to attend upon a Dido who looked like a queen; I've forgotten who were the singers - but the huge lizards on the walls are no substitute for those fine dogs! I found it diminished visually in the current staging and costuming, as in the colour coding (red and blue gloves) on the Arthaus DVD from Salzburg.

So for this opera I am a traditionalist (by no means so for many others), preferring to rely upon my imagination and to listen under Sir Colin Davis's guidance (LSO Live CD and coming performance at The Proms 25 August).

My link below is to the home page of The Opera Critic, an invaluable resource to which I have contributed as a London representative prior to the launch of Musical Pointers.

In the reviews of this production collected there, the best attempt to elucidate Richard Jones' production positively is Edward Seckerson's sympathetic exploration for The Independent; my own reactions accord with those of Martin Anderson for Seen&Heard.

ENO Photos: Clive Barda
John Daszak, Susan Parry, Anne Marie Gibbons, Colin Lee,
Victoria Simmonds, Iain Paterson, Clive Bayley, Susan Parry

Arthaus 100 350: Les Troyens Cover - Deborah Polaski (Cassandra & Dido) - red-gloved as Cassandra

ENO's Les Troyens à Carthage in The Opera Critic

From stalls O3&4 the clarity was exemplary 18 May 2003 Musical Pointers
Jones proves himself the clearest-thinking and most creative force working in opera today
Only marginally better than Part 1 Seen and Heard
Trojans divide and conquer
The Times
It is much harder this time to work out where Aeneas and his raggle-taggle bunch have landed

© Peter Grahame Woolf