April 18, 2017

Erato makes rare complete recording of Berlioz's opera 'Les Troyens'

Live recording from Strasbourg features 250 musicians and an all-star cast: an historic French opera event.

Strasbourg, April 15 and 17, 2017: The full forces of the Strasbourg Philharmonic Orchestra, three choirs and sixteen hand-picked soloists unite under the baton of veteran Berlioz specialist John Nelson for two five-hour concerts of the  epic opera Les Troyens (The Trojans), in what Forum Opéra has already declared “the music event of the year” and “The Troyens of the century”. Erato had the honour of recording this French operatic milestone for release on the label in November 2017.

Some 239 musicians were present on and around the stage in surround sound formation in Strasbourg’s state-of-the-art Salle Érasme at the Palais de la Musique et des Congrès. American conductor John Nelson – who made his Metropolitan Opera debut in 1974 replacing an indisposed Rafael Kubelik in Les Troyens, has championed this grand opera for more than 40 years and has performed it more than any other conductor. Now, at last, the indefatigable maestro is at the helm of a predominantly French cast of rising stars and established artists, showcasing the finest singers of the French opera firmament, including mezzo-soprano Marianne Crebassa, baritone Stéphane Degout, bass Nicolas Courjal and tenors Stanislas de Barbeyrac and Cyrille Dubois.

Headlining this formidable Who’s Who, in the three principal roles, were American mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato and tenor Michael Spyres (Didon and Énée), and French-Canadian contralto Marie-Nicole Lemieux as the doomed prophetess Cassandre.

Alain Lanceron, president of Warner Classics & Erato, said: “Recording Berlioz’s Les Troyens is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. This monumental work, long considered unplayable, requires exceptional forces on all fronts: orchestra, choirs and numerous soloists, three of which take on the most demanding roles in French opera. The triumph of the concerts in Strasbourg promises a reference recording that will set a new landmark in the discography.

“It was with great emotion that we at Erato witnessed pioneering Berlioz conductor John Nelson at the podium of a transcendent Philharmonique de Strasbourg and the combined choirs of the Opéra National du Rhin, the Philharmonique de Strasbourg and the Badischer Staatsopernchor. The all-star cast led by Joyce DiDonato, Marie-Nicole Lemieux and Michael Spyres – all three in major role debuts – was surrounded by the crème de la crème of unique talents in the French school of opera: a stellar line-up that has already entered the annals of history! We are grateful to all the musicians and the recording team for their commitment to this unforgettable adventure.”

Joyce DiDonato added: “It has been a gift to return to making music with John Nelson, in particular on this momentous occasion of his return to the epic journey of Les Troyens. I cannot imagine creating the role of Didon with a more heartfelt, masterful baton in the lead.  It has been an absolute highlight of my musical life, and I am honoured to have been a part of this incredible team of orchestra, chorus and superlative soloists. This is a recording I will treasure – for the music-making and for the beautiful souvenirs of these days in Strasbourg.”

“To sing with Joyce, Michael and this dream cast was and a gift and a true pleasure. We were involved in this incredible music with all our hearts because we admire John Nelson’s vision so much. I hope I served Berlioz well!” enthused Marie-Nicole Lemieux.

“I have had the enormous privilege of recording what I consider to be the greatest French opera, with a predominately French cast, which has never been done before in all the recordings to date," said John Nelson. "The cast is the best ever assembled for this opera and the orchestra is ideal, with a marvelous combination of German discipline and French élan and beauty of sound. For a conductor it doesn't get better than this! We hope this will be a recording that will last for the ages.”

Erato has recorded Berlioz’s complete Les Troyens in Strasbourg for release in November 2017.

Full cast (in order of appearance):

Richard Rittelmann Soldier (act I), Greek captain (act II)

Marie-Nicole Lemieux Cassandre

Stéphane Degout Chorèbe

Michael Spyres Enée

Marianne Crebassa Ascagne

Philippe Sly Panthée

Stanislas de Barbeyrac Hélènus, Hylas

Bertrand Grunenwald Priam

Agnieszka Sławińska Hécube

Jean Teitgen Ombre d’Hector, Mercure

Joyce DiDonato Didon

Hanna Hipp Anna

Cyrille Dubois Iopas

Nicolas Courjal Narbal

Jérôme Varnier Sentinel I

Frédéric Caton Sentinelle II

Chœur de l’Opéra national du Rhin

Badischer Staatsopernchor

Chœur philharmonique de Strasbourg

Orchestre Philharmonique de Strasbourg

John Nelson conductor

Berlioz Les TroyensPhotos: Grégory Massat