Production by La Fura dels Baus
Co-production with the Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia (Valencia) and Poland's Opera Narodowa
World premiere: 6 December 1890, Grosherzogliches Hoftheater, Karlsruhe
Premiere of this production: 31 October 2009, Palau de les Arts Reina Sofía, Valencia
Premiere at the Mariinsky Theatre: 25 December 2009, St Petersburg
Running time: 5 hours 40 minutes
The performance has two intervals
Epic opera duologue
Libretto by the composer after motifs from Virgil's Aeneid
Performed in French
The performance will have synchronised Russian supertitles
Part I. The Capture of Troy
At the advice of the cunning Ulysses, the Greeks, raising the siege of Troy and abandoning their camp, leave a giant wooden horse that the Trojans take to be a gift to Pallas Athene. Cassandre, daughter of King Priam of Troy, foresees the fall and destruction of Troy and convinces her fiancé Chorèbe to flee from the accursed city. Chorèbe, however, does not believe her predictions and tries to calm his bride.
The people are praising the gods of Olympus for the salvation of Troy. Priam passes in a procession together with Hйcube, Énée, their suites and warriors. Folk games and rituals begin.
Andromaque, the widow of Hector, together with her son Astyanax, is giving vent to her implacable grief for her warrior husband amidst the general rejoicing.
Énée relates that the priest Laocoön, who has called on the Trojans to burn the wooden horse, has been swallowed up by a sea dragon – this is the wrath of the goddess Athena, enraged at the blasphemy that is occurring.
Priam, ignoring Cassandre's requests, orders the horse be brought to Troy and placed near the temple dedicated to Athena. At the same time, form the horse's belly comes the sound of clanking weapons, but the Trojans take this to be a good sign and triumphantly drag the statue towards the city. In despair, Cassandre observes the procession.
Scene 1. Énée's palace.
The ghost of the murdered Hector appears before Énée, who has foreseen the destruction of Troy, and orders him to flee the city and seek Italy, where he is to establish a new Troy – Rome.
Panthée brings news of the Greeks who have entered the city in the stomach of the horse and who are destroying it. Chorèbe, Énée's son, calls on Troy to be defended, and he heads the warriors.
Scene 2. Priam's palace.
The women are praying at the altar of Cybele, begging the goddess to help their husbands. Cassandre relates that Énée and the other Trojan warriors have saved the treasures of King Priam and led the people out of the fortress. She predicts that Énée and the other Trojans that remain alive will found a new city in Italy. At the same time, she relates that Chorèbe has died and takes the decision to destroy herself. The Trojan women admit that Cassandre's predictions have come true, and they made a fateful error in not listening to her. Then Cassandre calls on them to join her in death so that they do not become slaves of the victorious Greeks.
Part II. The Trojans in Carthage
The people of Carthage and Didon their Queen give praise to the achievements that have been made in the last seven years since leaving Tyre and founding a new city. Didon considers the proposal of a Nubian warrior to conclude a marriage pact that will bring mutual benefits from a political point of view. The people of Carthage swear their loyalty to Didon, and representatives of various professions – builders, sailors and peasant farmers – are, in turn, presented to the Queen.
As the triumphant ceremonies come to an end, Didon and her sister Anna discuss love. Anna calls on Didon to enter a second marriage, but Didon insists on observing the memory of her late husband Sichée. At this time, the Queen is informed of foreigners arriving in the port; they have been shipwrecked and are asking for refuge. Didon gives her agreement. Ascagne enters, showing the Queen the saved jewels of Troy and informing her of the city's destruction. Didon admits that she has heard of this sad event. Panthée then announces his prediction that a new city will be founded by the Trojans. Throughout this scene, Énée is getting dressed as a simple sailor.
The royal councillor Narbal appears with the news that the fierce ruler of the Nubian people, leading a vast horde of savages, is approaching Carthage. The city has insufficient weapons to defend itself. Then Énée comes forth and offers the services of his people to assist Carthage. Leaving Ascagne to the cares of Didon, he takes command of the united troops and hurries to meet the enemy.
In Didon's Gardens
The Numidians are broken in spirit, and the people of Carthage free Narbal and Anna, who had been taken prisoner. But Narbal is worried that Didon is neglecting the rule of the State, filled as she is with feelings for Énée. Anna sees nothing amiss in this and says that Énée would be a magnificent ruler of Carthage. Narbal reminds her that the gods have decreed that Énée link his destiny with Italy. Then Anna replies that there is no god on Earth more powerful than love itself.
Didon enters and a ballet begins – the dances of young Egyptian and Nubian slave girls. Then, at the Queen's command, village songs are sung. Didon asks Énée to tell her something more of Troy. Énée relates that Andromaque has become the wife of Pyrrhus, son of the Greek hero Achilles who killed her former husband, Hector. Didon senses that her last recollections of her dead husband are fading. She drops Sichée's ring, whose memory she has already betrayed in her heart. The Queen and Énée confess their love for one another. Their declarations are interrupted by the appearance of Mercury, messenger of the gods, who informs Énée it is Jupiter's will he leaves Carthage and sets out for Italy where he is to found a great city and a powerful nation.
Symphonic Entr'acte A Royal Hunt
The sea coast at Carthage
The sea coast is covered in tents of the Trojans, guarded by two sentinels; in the distance Trojan ships can be made out, and on the tall mast of one of them a sailor is singing a song of his anguish for his native land. The sentinels laugh at him, as never again will he see his father's home. Panthée and the Trojan leaders are discussing the terrible omens of the gods, displeased at their being delayed in Carthage. Voices from the underworld can be heard: «Italy!» The Trojans are seized with terror and undertake preparations to sail the very next day. After the leaders depart, the sentinels express their displeasure: they have seen no omens, they have heard no voices and they have no desire whatsoever to leave Carthage, where the women are so favourable to foreigners. Énée runs in, his soul in anguish at the cruel struggle between his duty, which calls him to Italy, and his love, which holds him in Carthage. He resolves to see the Queen one last time, but this time he is confronted by the ghosts of Priam, Chorèbe, Hector and Cassandre, who call to him to depart without delay. Énée understands that he must obey the will of the gods, recognising how cruelly and ignobly he is acting towards Didon. He gives the order to sail at dawn; it is at this time that Didon enters, in shock that Énée is attempting to sail away in secret, leaving her behind. Énée begs her to forgive him, denoting the will of the gods, but Didon pays no heed to these supplications and curses him.
Scene 1. Didon's Palace
Didon begs Anna to ask Énée once again to remain. Anna is sorry that she gave her blessing to the love between her sister and Énée. Then Didon, in a fit of temper, declares that if Énée truly loved her, he would not thus challenge the gods – and once more begs her sister to persuade Énée to remain in Carthage a few days more. At the same time, the Queen announces that the Trojan ships have cast off from the city. In fury, Didon orders the people of Carthage to sail after them and sink the Trojan fleet, filled with dismay that she did not wage war with them earlier, as soon as they sailed into Carthage. Left alone, Didon prepares to meet death, drawing the whole force of the wrath of the gods on her head.
Scene 2. Didon's Gardens
At the order of the Queen, a vast fire has been lit on the shore of the sea. Around the fire are the priestesses of Pluto. They call to the gods of the underworld for Didon to be soothed. The Queen burns Énée's armour and weapons. Narbal and Anna curse Énée, praying for him to die an ignoble death in battle. Didon removes her veil and throws it into the flames on top of Énée's toga. She prophesies that her blood will produce a nemesis – Hannibal the great warrior, who will rise and attack Rome to avenge her. To the terror of her subjects, Didon stabs her breast with a sword, and her body is placed on the pyre. However, at the moment of her death, the Queen is visited by a final vision: Carthage will be destroyed, while Rome will become the Eternal City.
In the apotheosis, the Capitol of Rome can be seen. The people of Carthage and the priests curse Énée and his people.
Interview with Carlus Padrissa (Stage director)
Les Troyens is an absolutely immense opera. How do you plan to retain the audience's attention for such a long time?
Les Troyens lasts over five hours. The score and the libretto for the opera are amazingly interesting. In the first part, we learn of the terrible story of a civilisation's self-destruction, and in the second there is a description of people resting in a foreign land, while in the third they resolve to set out and discover a place where they can build their world afresh. I think that the opera is a space where the concept of time disappears if the production is able to touch the depths of our souls. It is something that we are duty bound to attempt to do.
Do you see parallels in the plot of Les Troyens with the problems of life today?
A great many. In our version, the Trojans are viruses that get to the heart of an operating system, destroying all the information stored there. That is the description of the Trojan virus that can be found in every search engine on the Internet. According to the concept for the production, a "Trojan virus" is being carried by the characters themselves, and its effect can lead to disastrous consequences. In the second part of the production the heroes, who have suffered amnesia because of the virus, are regaining their health in Carthage, a world of pleasures. It is a true sensual paradise with the sea, the beach, the palm trees as well as a strong and emergent power that is carrying out an environmental study. It is, moreover, a society where well organised groups and professional unions serve public wellbeing. But, ultimately, despite the hospitality of the people of Carthage, the protagonists once again set out on a journey. They take their places in a spacecraft in order to set out for the distant planet of Mars and build a new civilisation there.
What does Berlioz' work mean for you, in particular his opera music?
Berlioz' music comes from a very rich cultural tradition. The opera Les Troyens is not staged so very often, despite all its rich content. I like the opera's choral scenes, its orchestration, the unexpected contrasts that create a "zapping" effect ("zapping" – switching from one channel to another using a remote control). The music in the opera is enchanting. The contrast between the sung choruses and arias and the declamatory recitatives that are accompanied by expressive orchestral counterpoint build truly tense musical and dramatic action.
Does your experience in cinematography help you at all in your work on operas? Will you be using any cinematographic techniques in the production?
The concept "cinematographer" appeared over one hundred years ago, and, ever since, many talented directors have left opera for cinema. Instead of new opera houses, cinemas were opened. But today we understand that cinema, however interesting it is, will always be a "copy" of a theatre production. It does not have all the same possibilities of interacting with the public, while an opera is a live performance that changes every day depending on the inspiration and the mood of the public.
Using cinematographic techniques and video installations in opera, we can bring it closer to other forms of modern art, such as "performance". The time is already here for a union between cinema and opera, and this union brings with it many new possibilities. One of the most impressive results to be found on this path can be seen in the virtual scenes of light in the production of Der Ring des Nibelungen at the Palau de les Arts in Valencia.