“How often, as I construed the fourth book of the Aeneid for my father, did I feel my heart swell and my voice falter and break.” Thus Berlioz in his memoirs, and in this proms performance of the monumental work into which he poured a lifetime’s fascination with Virgil, you could almost feel the composer’s emotion. Those who did not warm to David McVicar’s ROH staging would have been more than satisfied with this concert version, since the concentration on the individual characterizations and their crises enabled an intense relationship with these fallible gods and heroes.
Cassandra dominates the first acts, and in a searing performance by Anna Caterina Antonacci we had all that the heart could desire. Les Troyens and indeed much of the Aeneid basically stems from not listening to Mum (and dad-figure too, since poor old Laocoön’s eminently sensible advice to torch that damned horse is equally ignored) and here Antonacci was stunning, conveying all the frustrated rage of one who knows that doom is at hand, yet is destined not to be heeded. I know how she felt.
It was a tough job to approach her level of singing and dramatic power, but both Eva-Maria Westbroek’s Didon and Brian Hymel’s Aeneas almost managed it. The soprano gave all she has in every detail, although one might at times want more richness of tone, and the tenor rightly brought the house down with his ‘Inutiles regrets.’ Hymel’s voice may not yet have an ideally heroic ring, but he shapes the phrases with sensitivity and succeeds in making you sympathize with this vacillating semi-hero. Their duet, ‘Nuit d’ivresse’ was one of the high points of the evening.
There was exceptionally strong support from the superbly sung Chorebus of Fabio Capitanucci, the eloquent Anna of Hanna Hipp and the forthright Narbal of Brindley Sherratt. Ed Lyon’s ‘Vallon sonore’ was a memorable cameo, sung with liquid tone and sweet intensity, and Ji-Min Park’s ‘Ô blonde Cérès’ was an enthralling episode. Even those pesky ancient heroes were in impressive hands, in the persons of Jihoon Kim and Robert Lloyd.
Renato Balsadonna had worked his customary wonders with the ROH chorus; whether admonishing the protagonists or reflecting on general woe, the singing was magnificent throughout. Antonio Pappano conducted like a man possessed, producing wonderfully assured, unashamedly romantic playing from the ROH orchestra at the absolute top of its game.
What’s not to like? Opera lovers are being royally served at this year’s Proms, and if the standard here is anything to go by, the ENO’s Peter Grimes on August 24th and Glyndebourne’s Le nozze di Figaro on August 28th will be evenings to remember.