The Trojans, Coliseum, London

History in the making
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The Independent Culture

The war on terror intensifies. Insurgencies escalate. National security now a top priority. Almost a year on from its timely inception, The Trojans, according to Richard Jones, plays like a series of familiar newspaper headlines. Mythology or prophecy - it's hard now to separate one from the other. This analogy could run and run.

The war on terror intensifies. Insurgencies escalate. National security now a top priority. Almost a year on from its timely inception, The Trojans, according to Richard Jones, plays like a series of familiar newspaper headlines. Mythology or prophecy - it's hard now to separate one from the other. This analogy could run and run.

English National Opera's new season could hardly have got off to a more resonant start. Now that both parts of Berlioz's epic can at last be seen as a single entity - blockbuster as opposed to mini-series - the ingenuity and immediacy of Jones's realisation can be appreciated to the full. He's turned the most static of stage works into a living drama. He has drawn us in where Berlioz kept us at a distance; clarified what was fudged; fleshed out what was sketchy; animated what was inanimate. In short, he's made an opera of an oratorio, a dramatist of a com- poser. Quite an achievement.

We can now appreciate the symmetries of Jones's staging, the confluence of two very different worlds, the way in which darkness and light, cause and effect, elide. The great choruses that transport us first to Troy and then to Carthage are mirror images of each other - two sides of the same coin - something Jones underlines with identical blocking. The sense of history repeating itself, of one set of actions perpetuating another, is very unsettling. I'm still not sure why he needed two designers (Stewart Laing and John Macfarlane) when they could so easily have been one. Troy and Carthage might look different but they ultimately behave the same. Perhaps it was psychological for Jones.

What matters, though, is the feeling that's conveyed, the masterly way in which Jones reflects the musical stylisation in the physicality of his staging. He even finds ways of giving the interminable ballets dramatic purpose and context. Like the opening scene in Carthage, when Queen Dido reviews her kingdom's achievements and a replica of the city is ritualistically assembled before us like a banquet. Later in that same scene the same tables display the missiles gifted from Troy to Carthage in defence of their realm - a gesture bringing Dido and Aeneas together but at the same time portending their doom. Then there is the "dirty dancing" of the "Royal Hunt and Storm", where Jones and his choreographer Philippe Giradeau cleverly convey the mounting sexual charge against static images of an approaching tornado. How untimely is that.

Musically, Paul Daniel and his chorus and orchestra make quite a fist of the score. Some of the cast - variable, to say the least - do not. I had problems with Susan Bickley's underprojected Cassandra, prophet of doom in a suit and pearls. Here is a lady well beyond counting wooden horses in her sleep but, barring the big notes, it's no wonder no one was hearing her; she simply wasn't a presence. Likewise her betrothed, Robert Poulton's ineffectual Chorebus. A bigger problem was John Daszak's Aeneas, looking solid but sounding desperately insecure, especially when set against Sarah Connolly's majestic Dido in their eternal "night of love".

Connolly was by a mile the star of the show, regal of countenance, generous of phrase and tone and just so much inside the skin of this lady. Her emotional journey was laid bare for all to be humbled by. She was well complemented by the some- times alarming contralto colour of Anna Burford as her sister Anna and the bullish bass of Clive Bayley as her minister Narbal. Plaudits, too, for Mark Padmore as the homesick sailor Hylas, though his beautiful number is still - like so much of this score - disproportionate to its dramatic purpose.

I'd be interested to see how this co-production with San Francisco Opera goes down there. The arrival of the wooden horse like Disney on Parade at a Republican rally might also be an indication of history about to repeat itself.

To 5 October (020-7632 8300)

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