Kent Nagano Leads the Hamburg Orchestra in a Beautifully Performed Berlioz

GermanyGermany Berlioz: Les Troyens: Hamburgische Staatsoper Chorus and Orchestra, Kent Nagano (conductor), Staatsoper, Hamburg, 9.10.2015 (JMI)

Hamburg State Opera’s Les Troyens
(c) Hans Jörg Michel

Berlioz, Les Troyens

New Production:

Direction: Michael Thalhaimer
Sets: Olaf Altmann
Costumes: Michaela Barth
Lighting: Norman Plathe


Didon: Elena Zhidkova
Aeneas: Torsten Kerl
Cassandre: Catherine Naglestad
Chorebe: Kartal Karegedik
Anna: Katja Pieweck
Narbal: Petri Lindroos
Ascanio: Christina Gansch
Iopas: Markus Nykänen
Hylas: Nicola Amodio
Hector’s Ghost: Bruno Vargas
Pantheus: Alin Anca
Priam: Stanislav Sergeev

The 2015/16 season of Hamburg’s Staatsoper opened in September with Les Troyens, conducted by Kent Nagano, their new musical director, who replaced Simone Young. For the occasion, the Staatsoper commissioned a new production of the opera by Michael Thalhaimer.

Mr. Nagano’s debut on the podium has been impressive. He maintained tension in a brilliant reading of Berlioz’s masterpiece, drawing a splendid performance from the orchestra. The chorus was excellent as well.

A few days ago I suffered through Mr. Thalhaimer’s staging of Der Freischütz in Berlin. I did not have high expectations here, and thus cannot say I was disappointed, but I’ve seen livelier semi-staged performances. This production goes beyond the minimalism prevailing in opera houses and is characterized by multiple cuts to the score. The sets consist of two side walls and one at the back of the stage that sometimes gives way to the chorus. There’s nothing on stage, not even a single prop. It makes no difference whether we are in Troy or Carthage so do not look for the Trojan Horse or the offerings to Dido, let alone the funeral pyre at the end of the opera. The costumes are brought more or less up to present times. In this type of production lighting is crucial, and it is good here.

The stage direction is minimal and the chorus quite static, almost like that of a classical Greek tragedy. If in Freischütz the eagle’s blood was too much to bear, here Mr. Thalhaimer almost floods the stage with blood. During the performance I recalled the Emperor Altoum in Turandot when he sings: “Basta sangue!”

Elena Zhidkova as Queen Dido was the best in the cast. Her performance was superb in terms both of singing and acting. It’s a pity that the direction was so passive, because the Russian mezzo soprano could have been even better: she’s an excellent actress with an appealing stage presence.

Aeneas was played by Torsten Kerl. The part is one of the most difficult for a tenor, and Mr. Kerl can be uneven. But his voice suits the character, and he had no problem overcoming the difficulties.

The role of Cassandre is not easy to cast: it needs a singer halfway between soprano and mezzo soprano. In the past 30 years, I’ve found only Jessye Norman and Anna Caterina Antonacci truly convincing as Cassandre. In Hamburg we had Catherine Naglestad, whose vocal characteristics are those of a pure soprano, falling short at the bottom of the tessitura. However, she was intense in her singing and a persuasive interpreter.

Chorebe was well served by baritone Kartal Karegidik, and Alin Anca did nicely as Panthée. Petri Lindroos was too tight at the top and not to my taste as Narbal. Tenor Markus Nykänen as Iopas was limited in this version to just one aria, and he was rather modest. Christina Gansch was good in the part of Ascagne, the son of Aeneas, and mezzo soprano Katja Pieweck made a good impression in the part of Anna. Hylas is a character who has only one aria, but it’s a real gift for a tenor and Nicola Amodio sang it with gusto.

José M. Irurzun

Leave a Comment