Lyric Opera’s THE TROJANS (LES TROYENS) Review— Noble and Grand Passions Abound

LES TROYENS‑Awe Inspiring

Les Troyens, or The Trojans, is awe-inspiring, thrilling, and certainly one of the most gigantic and convincing masterpieces of music-drama.  It is the grandest of grand operas yet with tremendous intimacy.   The duration of this cathedral of opera is about four hours and thirty minutes with two intermissions. Les Troyens is a bridge between classicism and romanticism.

This opera is Hector Berlioz at the height of his powers.

The letters Berlioz wrote during the composition of his monumental work express a profound sense of exhilaration and fulfillment. He was conscious that the great task of his life was upon him, because all the different strands of his art were coming together for a supreme and crowning effort. He wrote his sister Adèle --- “I assure you that the music of Les Troyens is noble, grand, and that it has a poignant truthfulness.”

Lyric’s Production‑Not To Be Missed

This is the first time that Lyric Opera has performed this great masterpiece — one that is truly enormous in scale. It is a classic story from the ancient world, and, at the same time, highly topical. War, cities under siege, and refugees are some of its central themes. The art form of opera has nothing more thrilling to offer than Les Troyens.  I see opera as a culmination of voice, orchestra, acting, ballet and sets and costumes – and sadly usually am disappointed at what I see performed on our stages.  Other than sadly designed costumes that bring nothing to this grand epic drama, and disappointing choreography, everything else meshes into an experience of theatrical and musical ecstasy.
Known as one of French opera's most ambitious works, the Lyric Opera of Chicago presents the Lyric premiere and brand new staging of this vast epic, bringing together The Fall of Troy and The Trojans at Carthage in much-anticipated production by Sir Andrew Davis that is as astounding and vivid as Berlioz's incredible score.


Inspired by Virgil's The Aeneid, Les Troyens (The Trojans) was Berlioz's last masterpiece.


Pushing the boundaries of a grand opera, the piece combined runs for over five hours, as the story melds imperceptibly with the excitingly visceral score, taking us on the journey of the Trojans, from their first interaction with the famed wooden horse, to years of exile as they head to establish a new capital in Italy. At its heart is the romance between the warrior King Aeneas and the powerful Queen of Carthage, Dido. But how will love fare in the face of destiny and interference from the gods.?

Rarely performed, this really is a sumptuous treat for the eyes and ears, and is not to be missed by fans and newcomers alike. This is a unique opera about rapture, and is truly extraordinary.

Berlioz and History of LES TROYENS

Berlioz was not a member of the Parisian opera Mafia and therefore his works were seldom performed during his lifetime.  Not so however in Russia and Germany where Berlioz enjoyed some great successes conducting his own works.  Though Berlioz did not live to see it performed complete, Les Troyens, with its astonishing score lasting more than four hours, was the summation of his work.


The opera begins with the Trojans celebrating the end of the Greek siege of Troy that lasted for 10 years. The city has been destroyed and the sound in this part is austere, electric and possessed. The scenes show how the people of Troy pull the famous Trojan horse with Greek soldiers inside it, into their city - despite the ardent warning of Cassandra - and the ensuing fall of Troy. Aeneas, a Trojan leader, escapes with sailors and ships. They sail past Greece and Sicily to Tunisia.

The second part of Les Troyens is set in Carthage, an ancient town in Tunisia, near the capital Tunis in north Africa and is at its peak. The music now is a strong contrast to the first part of the opera. Here it is lyrical, sensuous, sun-drenched and star-laden. And the Trojans are now at Carthage. Aeneas and his men lead Carthage’s army to victory in battle. Queen Dido of Carthage and Aeneas fall in love, but their idyll ends when the hero realizes that fate is too strong: he must leave for Italy. The despairing Dido mounts a funeral pyre and, after proclaiming the coming of a Carthaginian general (Hannibal) who will avenge her, she stabs herself with Aeneas’s sword. She dies envisioning Carthage’s eventual destruction at the hands of Rome, as her people curse Aeneas and his descendants which is depicted most dramatically in Berlioz's orchestration of that scene.
The chorus makes a mighty contribution and the earth almost shakes from the impact!

The first and second acts, which shows the fortress the people of Troy have built to ward off 10 years of siege by the Greeks, is dominated by a massive, multitiered, convex iron wall. The image is powerful, if rather obvious.

Costume and Set

Costumes by Tobias Hoheisel suggest mid-19th-century Europe at the dawn of the Industrial Revolution. For acts three, four and five at Carthage, they looked like workers from the Weimar Republic.  They were most inappropriate since Carthage at this time is a city-state in Africa full of palms, the sun, the sea and successful agrarian society.

The giantic set piece (also designed by Mr. Hoheisel) was used again at Carthage and was in constant motiobn. Really outstanding to me was the projection team of brothers Matt and Rob Vale and their company Illuminos. The brothers burned Troy, created a most memorable trickle of a waterfall that would engulf the entire stage with illuminations. Their contribution cannot be overlooked.
Unfortunately, the choreography by Helen Pickett was an embarrassment.
Singers and Actors Both
Any production of Les Troyens better have a charismatic tenor on hand to sing the demanding role of Aeneas and the Lyric did in the person of American tenor Brandon Jovanovich.


Not only a singer but an actor of the first rank, one feels his patriotism for founding a new Troy at the expense of his love for Dido, the Queen of Carthage.  He took a noble and super-human role and infused it with his own personal charisma.  His scenes with Susan Graham (closely associated with the French repertoire) as Queen of Carthage burn in my memory because both of them possess that elusive gift of acting and theatrics.  For as grand as Les Troyens is, this perfect duo gave it an intimacy all its own.  Dido’s sister, Anna, was beautifully sung and acted sung German born Okka von der Damerau, a favorite of the Bayerische Staats Oper, Munich. Christine Goerke sang Cassandra, daughter of the King of Priam.


Cassandra sees the future and her scenes with her lover, Chorebus (Lucas Meachem) just could not pull themselves off!  Both are talented and gifted singers but the love and attraction part, so important to successfully play their love scenes and move the story forward, just did not come off – partly because there was just so much of Ms. Goerke to love.

Genius of a Master Musical Dramatist

Sir Andrew Davis conducted and Chorus Master was Michael Black who led the expanded 94-member ensemble.


The miracle of Les Troyens is Berlioz’s ability to maintain a through-line within a uniquely broad operatic structure.  Every component of the work relates crucially to what proceeds and follows, so that the shape of the whole is never lost.  The cumulative impact is overwhelming, leaving any audience forever in debt to the genius of a master musical dramatist.




November 17, 1 PM
November 21, 5:30 PM
November 26, 5:30 PM
December 3, 5:30 PM


Lyric Opera of Chicago
20 N. Wacker Drive
Chicago, IL 60606


To purchase visit or call 312-827-5600

Photos:  Todd Rosenberg

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