There was a time when record labels regularly lavished huge budgets on complete opera recordings. Not so anymore: Declining revenues have meant less money to spend on these prestige projects. So kudos to Warner Classics’ Erato label for its recent release of Hector Berlioz’s massive “Les Troyens,” featuring a huge cast that includes Kansas City’s own Joyce DiDonato.
DiDonato sings the role of Dido in this sprawling, five-act opera based on Virgil’s “The Aeneid.” Few composers can match Berlioz for grandiosity, and “Les Troyens” is so overblown and unwieldy that Berlioz was required to cut the first two acts for its premiere performance in 1863.
“Les Troyens” was not performed in its entirety until 21 years after Berlioz’s death. Complete performances are now the norm, and this recording is unabridged, including every glorious note.
DiDonato, of course, is wonderful. No one plays larger-than-life, mythic characters better. The rest of the cast is up to her level, and the orchestra and choir sound marvelous.
You can follow the story with the libretto, which is included in the set, but it’s just as enjoyable to mindlessly groove to all four discs while you’re doing your fall housecleaning and reveling in the sumptuous sound. Even if you aren’t an opera buff, I heartily encourage you to give this set a try. You might be surprised how much you enjoy this extravagant art form