MUSIC / Greek and Trojan gifts: Adrian Jack reviews Berlioz's The Trojans at the Barbican

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The Independent Culture
The ideal way to experience Berlioz's The Trojans will be on Sunday, when those lucky enough to have tickets (it has been sold out for weeks) will hear all four and a half hours in one day, with a comfortable dinner break - at a sensible East European hour - between the Trojan and Carthaginian parts of the epic.

Last weekend the London Symphony Orchestra's concert performance was 'run in' on separate evenings, and it's repeated in that form this Wednesday and Thursday. Don't miss it, whenever.

Brahms once said that the best performances he heard were in his head when reading a score. That degree of musical skill is denied most of us. But we can all visualise opera in concert performance, and in the case of The Trojans this may well be the best production we ever have the chance to see. Indeed, an element of the unseen seems integral to Berlioz's intentions, with ghosts of the past and portents of the future punctuating events, and a substantial amount of off-stage music.

Certainly, it would be hard to imagine The Trojans so splendidly performed in the theatre as at the Barbican under Sir Colin Davis, with not a doubtful link in the cast, and the LSO Chorus and Orchestra in spanking form. The chorus and orchestra carry the whole thing, creating a fluid, shifting series of tableaux - for all that the score is made up of 'numbers' - both colossal and picturesque.

In mid-19th century Paris, applause would have broken the flow at every opportunity. Still, it seemed tactless of a few members of the audience to clap after the first scene of the final act, so that the spell was broken before Dido's outpouring of grief after Aeneas has abandoned her (perhaps the most achingly beautiful music of the whole opera, with its sweeping cello melody). Still, the break did at least allow Ian Bostridge's winsome Hylas a separate bow.

Markella Hatziano, a statuesque Dido, was magnificent, with a voice of sumptuous richness and steely strength, focused extremely accurately, bar a tendency to sharpen slightly on climactic notes. She looked like the Queen of Carthage as Jacques Louis David might have painted her.

Aeneas was Vladimir Bogachov - a man who would have looked at home wielding a large club, and bred, you might say, just as a bull- terrier is to fight, to produce top notes that threaten to send window panes shattering. A real hero.

In the earlier Trojan part of the opera, the outstanding individual is the hapless, unheeded Cassandra, sung passionately by the American, Jane Henschel. It would be hard to ignore any warning from her lips, and her physical presence matched the imposing attack of her delivery.

But if anyone has to be singled out as the hero of the venture, it must be Sir Colin Davis, who conducted the 1969 production at Covent Garden and made the famous recording of the whole work. With chorus, orchestra and cast barely able to squeeze on to the Barbican stage, the Trojan army blazing away in the dressing-rooms, not to mention the echoes of hunting- horns resounding from all kinds of ingeniously planted coverts around the audience, the ears were sated and the mind's eye stimulated to a degree rare in the theatre.

Barbican Hall, Silk St, London EC2 (071-638 8891)