Opera: Les Troyens A Carthage – Hector Berlioz

“Les Troyens a Carthage” or “The Trojans at Carthage,” an opera in five acts and a prologue with words and music by Hector Berlioz was produced in Paris, Nov. 4, 1863. It forms the second part of the lyric poem ” Les Troyens ” (” The Trojans “).

CHARACTERS

AEneas, a Trojan hero, son of Venus and Anchises. Narbal, minister to Dido. Pantheas, Trojan priest, friend of AEneas. Iopas, Tyrian poet at the court of Dido. Hylas, a young Phrygian sailor. Two Trojan soldiers. Dido, Queen of Carthage, widow of Sicheus, formerly prince of Tyre. Anna, sister of Dido. Ascagnus ,young son of AEneas. A rhapsodist. Mercury. Spectres of Priam, of Chorebus, of Cassandra, of Hector. Chorus of Tyrians, Trojans, Carthaginians, nymphs, satyrs, fauns and sylvans.

Upon the rising of the curtain on the prologue, Troy is seen in flames and a rhapsodist appears to recite his story to an orchestral lament. He tells how after ten years’ futile siege of Troy, the Greeks by trickery entered the city in the Wooden Horse, which they pretended was an offering for the appeasing of the offended Pallas Athene. He adds that this was done in spite of the warnings of Cassandra, who ultimately found all her forebodings correct and who, with the other Trojan women, killed herself.

The first act is played in a vast hall in the palace of Dido at Carthage. A fête is being celebrated. The fair Queen thanks the people for establishing a prosperous and substantial young empire in the seven years since they fled with her from Tyre from the tyrant Pygmalion, her husband’s murderer. Great in peace, she asks them to show themselves a race of heroes in war and to defend her from an odious marriage with Hiarbas, the Numidian. The adoring people gladly promise their protection.

The next scene reveals the Queen’s apartment. Here her sister Anna, observing the Dido’s depression, counsels her to remarry instead of living so constantly with the memory of her dead spouse. As they talk, Iopas comes to announce the arrival of deputies from a strange fleet in quest of an asylum.

Dido, taught compassion by her own past, willingly grants them an audience. Among the strangers is AEneas, the Trojan, who is destined to be the founder of the Roman empire. He is in the guise of a sailor and is accompanied by his young son. During the presentation of gifts to the Queen, news is brought that the insulted Hiarbas has arrived with a great army and, when the Carthaginians express their fear that they will fall in the unequal contest, AEneas throws off his disguise and offers to supplement their army with his forces. Leaving his son in Dido’s care, he goes to marshal his hosts.

Between the first and second acts, the spectacle of a royal chase is depicted. The hunters appear and, as the trumpets sound a fanfare, glimpses are caught of frightened naiads hiding in the reeds. The sky is obscured and the rain falls with rapidly increasing force. In the lightning flashes are discerned AEneas and Dido garbed as Diana, the huntress. They seek shelter in a grotto. Wood-nymphs glide from the pinnacles of high rocks and satyrs, sylvans and fauns perform a grotesque dance. Occasionally, in the midst of the clamor of the tempest is heard the word “Italy.” Finally, all disappear into the depths of the forest and the tempest dies away.

The second act is played at sunset in the garden of Dido at the edge of the sea. The Queen and her court, together with AEneas and the boy Ascagnus, watch the splendid dance performed by Numidian slaves, the Queen indifferently, it is true. A growing love is undermining her faithfulness to her dead husband. At last she waves away even her favorite, the poet Iopas, who at her bidding has sung to her. Then she asks AEneas, who reposes at her side, to tell her of the fate of the lovely Andromache, widow of Hector. AEneas relates that, reduced to slavery by Pyrrhus, she implored death but finally was induced by the obstinate love of the prince to espouse him instead. Dido, fearing herself, shrinks from the knowledge of this precedent, lest she may be weak enough to do likewise. She is unconscious that as they converse, the boy Ascagnus toying with her fingers draws off her wedding-ring. The Trojan hero and the enamored Queen stroll into the gardens where in the light of the moon they acknowledge their love. Mercury, appearing suddenly in the moonlight, strikes with his wand AEneas’ shield which hangs upon a column and solemnly repeats the word. ” Italy, Italy, Italy.”

In the third act, is seen the shore of the sea, covered with Trojan tents and, afar off, Trojan ships lying at anchor. The young sailor Hylas ponders upon the uncertainty of a soldier’s fate; the priests take counsel among themselves and voices of invisible spirits are heard uttering cries of ” Italy.” AEneas, perturbed, arrives in camp, fresh from a heartrending interview with Dido in which he has told her that it is necessary for him to leave Carthage. He describes vividly her anguish and irreconciliation. To banish the memory of the fixed eyes and deathlike pallor of the Queen, the spirits of the dead heroes come to remind him of his duty, which is to conquer and found a nation. They warn him against delay.

In the fourth act, Dido’s sorrow and love prove stronger than the desire for revenge for her betrayed faith. To those who surround her intimately, she confides that she means to put an end to her unbearable existence.

In the fifth act, the curtain rises to disclose a funeral-pyre raised in the gardens of Dido. Accompanied by the songs of the priests and the lamentations of the people, the Queen mounts the steps and casts upon the pyre the toga of AEneas. Dowered with the prophetic gift of those about to die, she foretells that her memory will go down the ages, that her people will accomplish their heroic designs and that from her ashes will spring a splendid avenger. Then falling upon the sword of AEneas and with the word ” Rome ” upon her lips, the Queen of Carthage dies. A vision of Rome is seen in the sky, with legions surrounding the capitol and poets and artists at the feet of an emperor. At this, the people of Carthage utter the heralding cry of the Punic wars which shall be waged between the Romans and the Carthaginians.

This is the second and more familiar part of Berlioz’s double opera ” Les Troyens,” which follows the plot of Virgil’s AEneas. Associated with this romantic story is some of the finest music written by Berlioz. Remarkable are the songs of Dido in the first act and the orchestral scene of the royal hunt and the storm; in the second act, the ballet music; the quintet ” Tout n’est que paix et charme ” (“All is but peace “) ; the love duet of Dido and AEneas, ” O nuit d’ivresse et d’extase infinie ” (” O night of ecstacy “) ; in the third act, the revery of the young sailor Hylas; AEneas’ lament “Ah! quand viendra l’instant des suprêmes adieux ” (“Ah! when shall come the moment of farewell “), and the scene of the death of Dido in the fourth act.”