by Paul J. Pelkonen
Bryan Hymel as Enée in Les Troyens at Covent Garden.
The tenor stepped in for Marcello Giordani at the Met.
Photo by Bill Cooper © 2012 Royal Opera Company of Covent Garden.
Enée (Aeneas) is not an easy part. He enters with a burst of florid singing, describing the unsightly death of the Trojan priest Laocoön in the coils of two sea serpents. This "speed bump" in the score was taken smoothly, with the words clearly enunciated and delivered with the correct ring of metal in the voice. He also proved to be an appealing, energetic lead, playing Enée as a man who could lead his people across the Mediterranean and (eventually) found the city of Rome.
Mr. Hymel showed a robust voice that was capable of powering over the thundering marches and brassy climaxes of Berlioz' "Gluck-on-steroids" orchestra. His big moment at the end of Act I (when Enée ironically orders the Trojan Horse to be put on wheels and brought into the city) rang out with clarion power, carrying a promise of the good things to come. That resolve continued into Act II, as the hero's Shakespearean encounter with the Ghost of Hector (David Crawford) became a thrilling moment.
The singer's debut was helped in the first half of the opera by Deborah Voigt's Cassandre. The singer sounded firmly in her comfort zone, displaying a renewed bloom to her instrument that was not present the week before. Her big duet with Dwayne Croft riveted listeners, and her three major climactic notes in the first act rang out into the vast house. The mass suicide of Trojan women was again, powerful, although the soprano still does not appear as Cassandre's ghost in the opera's second half. (I'm curious as to whether she'll change this approach for the Live in HD performance on Jan. 5.)
Susan Graham's arrival in Act III elevates Troyens, taking the audience from the war-torn walls of Troy to sunny Carthage. The agricultural ceremonies of the Carthaginian court have all the excitement of a 4H exposition, but they are helped by Ms. Graham's regal mezzo and her energetic presence as Didon. When the weary Trojans marched in, the audience was glad to hear Mr. Hymel again, whose voice sounded sturdy three hours into the show.
As the Trojans settle into daily life in Carthage (indicated by the Royal Hunt and Storm ballet that opens Act IV) Aeneas must express beauty and tenderness in his long courtship of Didon. The long series of ensembles was followed by the famous love duet, conducted with transparency and picturesque color by Fabio Luisi. "Nuit de tendresse" was sung perfectly, as Mr. Hymel matched voices with Ms. Graham. Although this was their first time singing together in this show, their epic duet brought down the house. The noises made by a balky sliding door (at the back of the set) and the offstage bellow of "Italie!" (by bass Kwangchal Youn) did not spoil the romantic mood.
A quick word on the rest of the supporting cast. Dwayne Croft (ill last week) made a welcome return as Chorèbe. Eric Cutler is an Act IV highlight as Iopas, singing his tenor aria with tenderness and care. Paul Appleby remains impressive in Hylas' Act V aria, singing with bright, swelling tone despite having to navigate one of the set's rickety-looking ladders with an enormous coil of rope on his back. Strong performances from Karen Cargill, Kwangchal Youn and the Met chorus continue to make this a long, but welcome banquet for the ears.
Putting Enée's big aria in Act V of Troyens makes dramatic sense, but has spelled D-O-O-M for many a tenor. Here, Mr. Hymel fully unpacked his instrument, delivering long, ringing high notes that sustained themselves in the slow opening section. He also had the power for Berlioz' massive cabaletta, hitting the big notes dead-on and letting the sound expand outward over the orchestra on a firm column of tone. Finally, this was the hero that Troyens deserved.