Of course, the implications of 9/11 could scarcely be avoided in a drama in which conflict and chaos are always apparent. Yet the manner in which Jones has laminated graphic images onto the Virgilian narrative suggests, at best, a narrowing conceptual focus on a situation of developing psychological complexity; at worst, a response somewhere between conceited and naïve. Those bound up with the capture of Troy emerge not as persons made real by their actions and responses, but as ciphers reduced to enacting commonplace situations of the present age.
Thus Cassandra, whose prophecies of doom and destruction range across the Trojan acts, becomes a middle-aged sociopath needing restraint from her menopausal excesses. Chorebus, her betrothed, is a careerist with no desire to question, let alone undermine, the social status quo. Hector is remembered as a JFK-like statesman with Andromache his Jackie-O consort; Priam a benevolent sugar-daddy, keen to boost his popular rating. The allusions to Ground Zero and Weapons of Mass Destruction as Troy falls might have implied an inherent topicality through the ages, but instead suggest an all-too-obvious reaching for visual archetypes.
Despite these limitations and the onstage appearance of a real wooden horse was a welcome feature the musical component of this production is always, and often more than, dependable. Susan Bickleys Cassandra is less commanding or implacable than previous assumptions, but sung with a telling humanity and compassion in the face of the inevitable. That she dominates both scenic and musical action is a tribute to her powers of vocal-acting, and in accord with the female centres of influence that Berlioz sets up in each half of his opera.
Otherwise, Robert Poulton makes a properly gullible Chorebus, Gerard OConnor a well-meaning but witless Priam and Pavlo Hunka a vividly-defined Ghost of Hector in itself a compensation for the visual fudge. As Aeneas, John Daszak has taken on perhaps the most crucifying tenor part in the repertoire: if sometimes strained in the upper register, the musicality of his response suggests an empathy which should find fulfilment in the Carthagenian acts to come.
Given the impact of Sir Colin Daviss concert performances of the opera over the last decade, it would be easy to criticise Paul Daniels conducting as tentative or under-powered. In fact, he finds a very plausible balance between characterising incidental detail and the broad sweep, which carries over from the discursiveness of the first act to the visceral brevity of its successor. Playing was rarely less than secure, with such crucial points as the clarinet solo that embodies Andromaches grief persuasively rendered, though offstage contributions need greater immediacy if Berliozs spatial dynamism is to be given its due. The currently under-threat ENO chorus sang lustily and with vigour; those representing the doomed Trojan woman can hardly be blamed for a certain self-effacement when given the appearance of peace protestors.
No, this isnt yet The Trojans for the 21st century any more than it avoids confusing the topical with the trivial. But if Jones can bring greater conceptual clarity to his portrayal of The Trojans at Carthage, and Daniel tighten his already apparent grip on the musical drama, this could still be a production which embodies rather than merely regurgitates the spirit of its time.
- Further performances on February 12, 15, 21, 25 and 27. Box Office: 020 7632 8300
- English National Opera