This opera may not be for the attention-challenged (at 5 hours and 20 minutes), it is epic re-defined.
Bringing this piece to the stage and to the silver screen asks questions of the director, conductor and creative team. Stay calm as Francesca Zambello is in charge, fresh from Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour. She is revisiting this production 10 years on and relishes working with the large ensembles.
We start backstage, actually onstage behind the famous velvet curtain, with introductory excitement from no less than Joyce Di Donato singing Mary Stuart in the new Roberto Devereaux production, bubbling amid the 110+ Met Chorus and mechanists.
Oh, and there’s a new tenor! In 2012, Sydney audiences had been promised Deborah Voigt in a Wagner and Strauss concert. Here she was on less-familiar ground in French opera. It is not unlike Walküre Brünnhilde in range, but perhaps the language eludes her. Her character Cassandra makes use of her large eyes, prophesying the downfall of her nation at every turn.
It is not until Énée arrives that we have Gallic élan. Flying in from London, rehearsing on Christmas Eve and venturing the role for the first time in New York, this debut rates as high as the cost of the production. At 33, Bryan Hymel produces clarion high notes and suave pianissimi. This is artistry – from a tenor. In fact, it appeared to encourage the production’s tenors to greater heights.
Moving on to what is perhaps the most gorgeous act of music in the Carthage Scene, praise belongs to conductor Fabio Luisi for creating such a lush accompaniment to both singers and ballet. Susan Graham, who has visited us recently, does relish the language and style of Berlioz. She brought superb phrasing and dramatic voice to Didon. Her affection for her people is in stark contrast to to Cassandra.
The ensemble drawn for the piece has some notable success: Karen Cargill as Anna, a burnished alto; Eric Cutler as Iopas brings real beauty to his aria; and Narbal, chief minister is sung by Kwangchul Youn.
Finally, the work shows the depth of talent in the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra. It’s worth going for their splendid playing.