Les Troyens Synopsis

Berlioz' Five Act French Opera

UK - Mariinsky Opera's production of Hector Berlioz's Les Troyens
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Composed in 1858, the libretto of Hector Berlioz' opera "Les Troyens" was written by Berlioz himself. The five-act French opera was based on Virgil's poem, "The Aeneid." The story takes place in ancient Troy.

Les Troyens, ACT 1

For 10 years, the Greeks have laid siege to the Trojans but suddenly stopped. Finally, delighted in their perceived peace, the Trojans rejoice; especially after the Greeks leave a large wooden horse outside of the city gate. The Trojans believe it to be an offering made to their goddess, Pallas Athena. However, King Priam's daughter Cassandra, a prophetess, believes no good will come of this horse. She tries warning her father and fiancé, Coroebus, that the horse will bring calamity upon Troy, but her prophesy goes unheeded. Coroebus urges Cassandra to join in their festivities, but she cannot. She begs him to flee the city, but Coroebus doesn't give in to her machinations.

The celebrations cease when Andromaque, the widow of Cassandra's brother Hector, brings a sad note about the priest, Laocoön. Believing the horse to be some kind of trick, Laocoön pierced the wooden horse with his spear and urged the townspeople to set fire to it. Moments later, he was attacked and devoured by two sea serpents. Aeneas, the commander of the Trojan army, is convinced that Laocoön angered Pallace Athena and that the horse must be brought to her temple within the city. The King agrees and Cassandra concedes to her visions of death and destruction.

Les Troyens, ACT 2

Asleep in his bedroom, Aeneas is visited by the ghost of Cassandra's brother, Hector. Hector reveals to Aeneas that he is to one day start a new city of Troy and that he must escape. As Hector fades away, Aeneas is awakened by his friend Panthee. Injured by the Greek soldiers hidden within the wooden horse, Panthee briefs Aeneas of the alarming situation.

Within the palace walls, Cassandra and a large group of Trojan women pray for divine intervention. Cassandra prophesies that Aeneas and several of the other soldiers have escaped with a large treasure where they will found a new city in Italy. A group of the women confesses they should have listened to Cassandra before, and then she asks them if they are ready to die. Some of the women are not, so Cassandra dismisses them. The remaining women vow to each other that when confronted they will die free women rather than possibly be raped or murdered by Greek soldiers. When the Greek soldiers arrive seeking treasure, the women commit suicide one by one, horrifying the Greek invaders. Moments later, Aeneas and his men make their successful escape from the city.

Les Troyens, ACT 3

At the palace of Dido, the Queen of Carthage, she is praised by her people. For the past seven years, they have enjoyed great peace and prosperity since their escape from the city of Tyre. Dido, a widow, is concerned about her refusal to marry Iarbas, the king of Numidia, for political reasons, but her sister, Anna assures her that she will one day find love again. Their conversation is interrupted by Iopas when he brings them news of the arrival of an unknown group of men.

Mindful of her own misfortunes of traveling treacherous seas, she welcomes the men into the city. The group of men make their way into Dido's court and offer her the last of their treasure. They tell her of their escape and their destiny to found a new Troy in Italy. Dido is then brought word that Iarbas and his troops are attacking the city. Knowing that her troops are lacking in numbers, Aeneas reveals his identity and offers to help the queen. After she agrees, Aeneas orders his son, Ascanius to protect the queen.

Les Troyens, ACT 4

Separated from the men, Aeneas and Dido take shelter in a cave within a forest when a strong storm encroaches upon them. Nymphs, satyrs, fauns, and naiads play outside in the rain during this instrumental segment of the opera. Aeneas and Dido give in to their mutual attraction to one another.

Days later, Anna and Narbal are talking in the queen's gardens now that the Numidians have been defeated. Narbal worries that the queen has been neglecting her duties, having fallen in love with Aeneas. He tells Anna he is concerned that Aeneas will not fulfill his destiny to build a new Troy in Italy. Anna replies that Aeneas will be a good king for Carthage and that no god or prophecy is stronger than love. Dido and Aeneas arrive and Dido asks Aeneas to tell a story of Troy's final days. As he does, she cannot help but draw similarities between herself and the widow of Cassandra's brother, Hector. Still, the two sing of their love for each other. Moments later, Aeneas is reminded by the god, Mercury, of his destiny to found the new Troy.

Les Troyens, ACT 5

Panthee and the other Trojan soldiers grow weary of their stay in Carthage. After seeing so many apparitions and omens, they cannot understand why Aeneas has not led them to Italy. Finally, several of them men approach Aeneas and convince him that they must depart. Finally conceding to their wishes, he tells them they will depart the following day after he visits Dido one last time. That night, Aeneas is visited by the ghosts of Hector, Cassandra, Coroebus, and the King urging him to leave. Finally, he wakes his men in the middle of the night and demands them to prepare the ships.

Dido hears word of his imminent departure and pays a visit to him down by the docks. Angered beyond belief, she cannot believe he would leave her. He tells her that he truly loves her, but she curses him before storming off to the palace. Aeneas, heartbroken boards their vessels and depart. The next morning, having calmed down, Dido asks her sister Anna to bring Aeneas to her so that she can be with him for just a few more days. When her sister returns to the palace, she tells Dido that Aeneas and his men have already left. Feeling betrayed, she regrets not setting his ships on fire beforehand. Instead, she orders a pyre to be built down by the docks where she can burn all of Aeneas' gifts.

When the pyre has to be built, Dido, Anna, and Narbal begin throwing the gifts into the fire, praying that their gods will curse Aeneas. As she does this, Dido has visions of an upcoming battle against Rome, avenging her, but sees that the battle is lost by her ally. Suddenly, she stabs herself with a nearby sword, shocking everyone. She admits that they are all destined to die by the forces of Rome, the new Troy, after seeing one last vision.

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