© ROH/Bill Cooper

Première of Hector Berlioz´ "Les Troyens"

The première and the production

On Sunday, 14 October 2018, Les Troyens will open the series of premières in the Wiener Staatsoper’s 2018/2019 season After almost 40 years, Hector Berlioz’ grand opera in five acts is returning to the stage of the opera house on the Ring in a production by David McVicar, conducted by Alain Altinoglu.

Berlioz composed the opera in the 1850s. Fascinated since his youth by Virgil’s tales of the hero Aeneas and his flight, Cassandra and Dido, the composer wrote his own libretto for Les Troyens, based largely on passages from Virgil’s Æneid and a scene from Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice.

Instead of a conventional opera, the result was a radical draft with a courageous sweep and epic classical scope. Few opera houses today can tackle the piece, the cost is too great, the demands too extensive – a chorus of around 100, an 85-strong orchestra, extras, children’s chorus, an unusual number of solo roles, dancers. Even when it was written and premièred, Les Troyens was anything but a repertoire piece, and the international premières are still relatively rare, as Wiener Staatsoper dramaturg Oliver Láng explains in the monthly magazine Prolog. In 1863 the second part of the opera was produced for the first time in Paris – there was no complete première, the first part had to wait until 1879, ten years after the composer’s death.

At Wiener Staatsoper Les Troyens has so far only been performed nine times in both parts (Austrian première and first performance in 1976 under Gerd Albrecht in a production by Tom O’Horgan, with Guy Chavet, Christa Ludwig and Helga Dernesch), from the 1980s the second part was performed five times, most recently on 26 April 1981.

The première series will be conducted by Alain Altinoglu. The French conductor and Musical Director of the Théâtre de la Monnaie debuted at the Wiener Staatsoper in 2011 with Roméo et Juliette, and went on to conduct performances of Don Carlo, Don Giovanni, Falstaff, Faust, Salome and Simon Boccanegra here, followed by Le nozze di Figaro at the Wiener Staatsoper guest performance in Oman in 2013 and the premières of Macbeth (2015) and Pelléas et Mélisande (2017). He is conducting Les Troyens at the Wiener Staatsoper for the first time. In an interview with dramaturg Andreas Láng for the Wiener Staatsoper magazine Prolog, he describes the work: “Les Troyens is the greatest and most monumental French opera, as it were – without comparing it in any way in form, content or style – the French Götterdämmerung. […] This work manifests – wonderfully, but nevertheless – Hector Berlioz’ complete megalomania and his special insanity.” This megalomania of Berlioz’ is evident not only in Les Troyens but “in virtually his complete works. He simply loved huge orchestras, a crowd of soloists and extras, oversized choruses.” Except for some small cuts in the ballet numbers, Les Troyens will be performed in its entirety in this Wiener Staatsoper première.

The score of Les Troyens lives from the creative sonorities and combinations of instruments that Berlioz developed. […] Conjuring up atmosphere, mood, local colour, characteristics through sound … Berlioz was an unmatched master of this,” is Altinoglu’s verdict on the score, before emphasising the question whether Les Troyens influenced the development of opera history. “Hector Berlioz undoubtedly influenced musical history with other works, but given the lack of an early and substantial record of public response – particularly in France – Les Troyens couldn’t lead to really major changes or even mark the start of a new tradition. As a result, this opera stands before us like a huge diamond.”

Sir David McVicar is the director – he launched this production in 2012 as a co-production of the Wiener Staatsoper, the Royal Opera House, La Scala and San Francisco Opera, and has now developed it further for Vienna. After Tristan und Isolde, Adriana Lecouvreur, Falstaff and most recently Ariodante, Les Troyens is his fifth Wiener Staatsoper production. In the initial concept presentation he emphasised the majesty and beauty of this opera, which he regards as an unusual and highly individual work in the history of opera. The central story of war and the effects of war, the collision of historical events with the personal fates of individuals shows a form of hopelessness. The whole piece is steeped in a pessimistic mood, which is briefly lightened by great joy and great love.

The production is set in the 19th century and references wars which happened in that period – that is, in Berlioz’ own time. Troy is strongly reminiscent of a 19th century city, and the costumes – created by German costume designer Moritz Junge – also recall the Second French Empire. Dido’s Carthage is a more mystical world, which in McVicar’s production is reminiscent of the Middle East, but also rooted in the 19th century., In the final scene, a huge statue of a warrior appears on the stage, apparently emerging from the ruins of the Trojan Horse – a new war is arising from the ruins of the old.

The sets for Les Troyens are by Es Devlin, and this will be the first time her work has been seen at the Wiener Staatsoper. In Austria, the internationally sought after English artist is known for her sets for the current production of Carmen at the Bregenz Festival.

The lighting designers are Wolfgang Goebbel and Pia Virolainen, and the choreography is by Lynne Page.

The cast

All the soloists are making their Wiener Staatsoper début in their roles in the première.
Enée is Brandon Jovanovich, Joyce DiDonato as Didon is singing her first Wiener Staatsoper première, Cassandra is played by Anna Caterina Antonacci, Chorèbe will be sung by Adam Plachetka. The Italian tenor Paolo Fanale is singing his second Wiener Staatsoper première as Iopas in Les Troyens.

Other cast members are Jongmin Park as Narbal, Rachel Frenkel as Ascagne, Benjamin Bruns as Hylas, Alexandru Moisiuc as Priam, Orhan Yildiz as a Greek chieftain, Marcus Pelz and Ferdinand Pfeiffer as First and Second Trojan soldier, Igor Onishchenko as Soldier/Mercure and Donna Ellen (instead of Jane Henschel) as Hécube.

Les Troyens is also the first première for three new ensemble members at the Wiener Staatsoper: Szilvia Vörös will sing Anna (instead of Margarita Gritskova), Peter Kellner is Panthée and Lukhanyo Moyake is Hélénus. Anthony Schneider will also make his first appearance at the Wiener Staatsoper as the Ghost of Hector.

The production will also include the Orchestra of the Wiener Staatsoper, the Chorus of the Wiener Staatsoper, directed by Thomas Lang, the Slovakian Philharmonic Choir, and the Wiener Staatsballett.

Original articles in the programme

The programme will continue the series of original articles by prominent authors and composers, with authors Julian Schutting and Anna Kim writing about literary approaches to Les Troyens while conductor, author and composer Frédéric Chaslin has written an “Interview with Berlioz”. Other contributors include Konrad Paul Liessmann, Arnold Mettnitzer and musicologists Susana Zapke and Elisabeth Hilscher.

Les Troyens “live at home” and on the radio

Radio Ö1 (+ EBU) is broadcasting Les Troyens on 20 October 2018, starting at 19.30, recorded on 14 and 17 October 2018 at the Wiener Staatsoper.
The performance on 4 November 2018 (instead of the première as originally announced) will be broadcast worldwide on WIENER STAATSOPER “live at home” in top audio and video quality.

Plot summary

The Trojan people are rejoicing over the unexpected withdrawal of the Greeks, after long years of siege. The gigantic wooden horse that was left behind is brought into the city, despite all the warnings of the seer Cassandra. In the night, Greek soldiers emerge from the horse, and the city of Troy falls. Aeneas, guided by the Ghost of Hector, manages to flee with some faithful companions and Troy’s treasury. He is commanded to found a new empire in Italy.

Carthage, ruled by the widowed Queen Dido, is prosperous. Aeneas and his warriors arrive, incognito at first. Aeneas helps the Carthaginians in the struggle against rebels and wins Dido’s heart. However, the love of the pair is disrupted by Aeneas’ duty to continue the journey to Italy. Driven on by the demands of the spirits, he leaves Dido, who commits suicide with the cry “Immortal Rome!” The Carthaginians swear eternal enmity with the people of Aeneas.

Matinee: 7 October, 11.00 a.m.


Premiere: 14 October
 17., 21., 26. October, 1., 4. November