“Les Troyens hasn't fared well on DVD, but this superb authentic-instrument performance of October 2003 from the Théâtre du Châtelet, Paris, equals Sir Colin Davis's pioneering original. Orchestrally it's everything we've come to expect from Gardiner's Berlioz, his tempi swift and dynamic, sharing the composer's delight in complex rhythmic interplay, yet always propelling the drama. Passages like Andromache's entrance and Hector's ghost nevertheless have their proper gravitas and sombre hues against the brighter shades of Carthage. Colour is the great gift of the period instruments, revealing a wide range of sonorities, and creating a sense of freshness and discovery.
The effect is sometimes rawer, sometimes more classical, but almost always more complex and dramatic than the homogenised modern sound.
Gardiner's singers, too, could hardly be more committed. Anna Caterina Antonacci is a fiery Cassandra, superbly classical-looking, so wrung and tormented that some moments of strain scarcely matter. Gregory Kunde tackles Aeneas with ringing tone, looks and acts pretty well, and brings a welcome bel canto touch to the gorgeous duet. Susan Graham, though, needs no caveats: a radiant Dido, queenly yet youthful, lyrical and lighter-toned than Janet Baker, but in her final despair no less tragically moving. Other roles are generally excellent. The mostly youthful chorus sounds marvellous, and is a constant force in Yannis Kokkos's moderately modern production.
The stage is plain and bare, capped by a reflector in which most of the décor appears: an Italian Renaissance cityscape for Troy, and the Horse only as a menacing head. Carthage is a classical vision of white walls and blue sea with stylised ships. The Trojans wear the inescapable greatcoats the brutal Greeks, inevitably, American combat gear, and the Carthaginians vaguely North African whites and pastels. This is a mostly straightforward, lively staging which lets characters and drama speak for themselves, and so works well on screen. The magnificent high-definition recording does it ample sonic and visual justice.
For anyone who loves Les Troyens, this is a revelatory and essential performance.”