Berlioz’s Les Troyens wins Gramophone’s 2018 Recording of the Year Award

‘A peach of a recording’ is how I signed off my original review of this account of Berlioz’s Les Troyens last December – ‘a thrilling new benchmark for this epic opera’. I completely stand by that assessment today – this set from Erato is an absolute stunner. I attended the second of two concert performances in Strasbourg last year from which the recording was taken (along with a patching session). Not only was it my outstanding concert of 2017, the resulting set was easily my disc of the year too.

Recordings of Les Troyens don’t come along every year, or even every decade. At four hours, it’s not on the scale of The Ring (although Wagner splits his cycle across four evenings) but is still a massive undertaking for any opera company to put together a cast capable of doing it full justice. This season, for example, just two companies – the Wiener Staatsoper and the Opéra de Paris – take up the challenge, and both productions feature singers who appeared on this winning recording. Perhaps this is one explanation of why Erato’s set is such a great achievement: no opera house could possibly field such a splendid cast.

The surprising thing is that – with the exception of Hanna Hipp, who sang Anna at Covent Garden in 2013 – all the singers were making their role debuts. The first half, ‘The Fall of Troy’, is dominated by the French-Canadian Marie-Nicole Lemieux, whose burnt-caramel contralto and dramatic flair make for a wild, unhinged Cassandre, partnered by the stylish baritone Stéphane Degout as Chorèbe. Michael Spyres is a colossus as Énée, in gripping, inexhaustible voice with thrilling top notes that have real ping. In Carthage, he falls for Joyce DiDonato’s noble Didon – and who can blame him? The American mezzo sings with tender ecstasy in their ‘Nuit d’ivresse’ love duet, yet summons up a vehement response to Énée’s desertion. Then take a look at the ‘minor’ roles: Marianne Crebassa, Cyrille Dubois, Stanislas de Barbeyrac, Philippe Sly … a true embarrassment of riches assembled by Erato’s Alain Lanceron with John Nelson.

But the highest accolade is due to the man on the podium. John Nelson told me he’d picked the Strasbourg Philharmonic, on the Alsatian border, for its combination of French colour and German discipline. Nelson has conducted more performances of Les Troyens than anyone else in the past four decades and that experience is vital in this truly remarkable recording.

Gramophone

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Last night I had the great, wicked joy of debuting the role of Agrippina with my beloved Il "Pomo d'Oro" orchestra and a wonderful cast. It’s going to be great fun getting to know her more and more ... not a moral fiber to be found in her!!!! Reminds me of a few people presently in power, no?? #absolutepowercorruptsABSOLUTELY #motheroftheyear #wheresmythrone #whatdoesagirlhavetodotogetacrown #thoserecitsthough 📸: @catecool

When I first flirted with the idea of taking on #Agrippina, it was asked of me, “But you do know she’s quite wicked, right?” Oh yes. I know. A new tour begins NOW with an extraordinary cast and my beloved partners Il Pomo d’oro with Maxim Emelyanychev at the helm. Between our limited 5-city tour, we are RECORDING!! • Handel: AGRIPPINA Luxembourg City • Madrid • Barcelona • Paris • London Il "Pomo d'Oro" orchestra @ilpdo @maxim_emelyanychev, harpsichord/director • Joyce DiDonato - Agrippina @LucaPisaroni - Claudio @elsabenoitsoprano - Poppea @xaviersabata - Ottone / Giunone Franco Fagioli- Nerone @andrewmastroni - Pallante @carlo.vistoli - Narciso Biagio Pizzuti - Lesbo • #BacktoHandel #Wicked #absolutepowercorruptsabsolutely #ihavealwaysbraggedabouthowmuchiloverecitative #timetoputmymoneywheremymouthis #HIGHDRAMA #handel @philharmonie_lux @teatro_real @liceu_opera_barcelona @theatre_champs_elysees @barbicancentre @askonasholt STYLING: @vitatzykun PHOTO: @chrissingerme

“I left my heart ... in Windy Chi-Town...” Aside from the glorious music making with the astonishing, treasured @chicagosymphony, it was this day at the Warrenville Juvenile Detention Center that stole my heart. I applaud the CSO and Maestro Muti for their commitment to bring their music to these beautiful kids, and I was deeply honored to sing for them. Seeing tears come to their eyes as they experienced Mozart first hand was simply life-affirming. As the beautiful girl in the yellow shirt told me afterwards as tears spilled from her eyes, “I don’t know what happened to me, but it feels like all of the anguish I’ve ever felt in my life came pouring out of that music.” Let’s not EVER underestimate the need for human connection in these kids’ lives. In a broken system and an often broken world, music and the arts are a bonafide, VITAL part of healing. How can you help? Photos: @toddrphoto

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I am thrilled to remain in the gorgeous world of Berlioz a while longer and look forward to singing his poignant cantata La Mort de Cléopâtre with the brilliant Chicago Symphony Orchestra​ and Maestro Riccardo Muti​ this week! May 2, 4 & 7: Orchestra Hall May 3: Wheaton College​ @chicagosymphony @riccardomutimusic Photo: Chris Sweda / Chicago Tribune

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