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Sir Colin Davis once more into the breach - Les Troyens knocks them cold
By Joel Kasow

MILAN - La Scala's recent revival of Les Troyens had all the requisite elements for an incandescent performance: Sir Colin Davis, an orchestra in rare form and experienced soloists. Unfortunately, the management decided to haul their 1982 Ronconi-Frigerio production out of the warehouse, thereby guaranteeing that every musical highpoint would be annihilated. With the multi-level set making it difficult for the entire chorus to be present on stage, at least half were seated in the orchestra pit and adjoining stage boxes alongside the harps and percussion instruments, never a satisfactory solution.

Davis's faith in the Berliozian message has never flagged and the fact that in the last twenty or so years he had only conducted the London concert performances gave this reading a renewed, youthful impulse, but one overlaid with the shadows of advancing wisdom.

Jane Henschel's Cassandre offered sufficient energy to propel the first part of the evening, through presence, incisive diction and exceptional singing. How unfortunate that couturier Karl Lagerfeld's costumes were singularly inappropriate for almost the entire cast. In this instance what may have been striking on the 1982 Cassandre, Nadine Denize, made Henschel look like a walking tent, while Manuel Lanza as Chorèbe was the sole male in the cast with a pair of legs that withstood exposure. His forthright singing was a positive factor. The constant references to Ascagne as the son of Enée led to much confusion as the delightful Laura Polverelli was so clothed that her feminine attributes were not hidden. And then poor Vladimir Bogachov as the Trojan hero tried his best to offer sensitive singing but was constantly betrayed by a voice not always under perfect control. He deserves credit, nonetheless, for not trying to sound like a Vickers clone.

Visually things did not improve for the second part of the evening. The same bits and pieces of scenery promenaded at will, characters were transported on and offstage on shaky platforms and - the other side of the coin when the music is presented in its entirety - the Amir Hosseinpur Dance Company was omnipresent. More than one member of the audience was heard to wonder if there were no dance troupe in Italy at the same appallingly low level of technique and choreographic imagination that would have been less of a drain on the already overtaxed coffers of La Scala. Markella Hatziano's Didon almost single-handedly compensated, with some help from Maria Popescu's occasionally over-adolescent Anna, Stanford Olsen's Iopas and Miguel Angel Zapater's saturnine Narbal.

In the end, it was Sir Colin's evening, and worth the trip for nothing else but to reconfirm that he is one of today's supreme conductors who should be encouraged to visit the opera house more often, and preferably for productions that do not require him to keep his eyes closed.

Click here for Operanet's interview with Sir Colin Davis

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