The Trojans in Carthage
Queen Didon of Carthage, remaining loyal to the memory of her late husband Sichée, does not wish to marry the Numidian King Iarbas who desires her favour. The Carthaginians swear devotion to Didon and are prepared to protect her from the Numidian’s solicitations. Representatives of various professions – builders, sailors and peasant farmers – are presented to the Queen in turn.
At the end of the triumphant ceremony, Didon is talking with her sister Anna, who convinces her to forsake her fidelity to Sichée and free her heart to find new love. At the same time, the Queen is informed of the arrival of foreigners in the port whose ship has been wrecked. Didon agrees to allow them into the harbour. A brigade of Trojans arrives, and Ascagne presents himself and his fellow travellers to the Queen. The Trojan priest Panthée tells of a prophecy that will force Énée to travel in search of Italy.
Didon’s counsellor Narbal informs her that the cruel Numidian leader has reached Carthage with a countless horde of savages and the city has insufficient weaponry to defend itself. Then Énée of fers assistance to Carthage. Leaving Ascagne in Didon’s care, he takes command of the now-unified soldiers and hastens to meet the enemy.
In Didon’s gardens Narbal is talking with Anna. He is worried that Didon, attracted by Énée, is ignoring affairs of State. Anna sees nothing amiss in this; Énée would be a magnificent ruler of Carthage. Narbal reminds her that the gods have decreed that Énée link his destiny with Italy, but Anna replies that there is no god on Earth more powerful than love itself.
With dances and songs the subjects praise their Queen. With Énée beside her, she gradually forgets her late husband. Didon and Énée declare their love for one another. These declarations are interrupted by the appearance of Mercure, messenger of the gods, who informs Énée it is Jupiter’s will that he leave Carthage and set out for Italy.
The sea coast of Carthage. Panthée and the Trojan leaders are discussing the terrible omens of the gods, displeased at their being delayed in Carthage. Énée’s soul is engaged in a bitter struggle between his duty, which calls him to Italy, and his love, which holds him in Carthage. He wishes to see the Queen one last time, but is confronted by the ghosts of Priam, Chorèbe, Hector and Cassandre who call to him to depart without delay.
Didon cannot believe that Énée is attempting to sail away from her in secret. Énée begs her to forgive him, denoting the will of the gods, but Didon pays no heed to these supplications and curses him. And yet she begs Anna to ask Énée once again to remain. Anna is sorry that she gave her blessing to the love between her sister and Énée. When Didon is informed that the Trojans have left Carthage, in fury she orders the Carthaginians to sail after them and sink the Trojan fleet, but then, left alone, in despair she resolves to commit suicide. At the moment of the Queen’s death, another vision comes to her: Carthage will be destroyed and Rome will become eternal. The people of Carthage and the priests curse Énée and his people.
Les Troyens is a tour de force of music that ranges from fiery military marches to intense choruses, passionate soliloquies – such as those of the prophetess Cassandre – and the lyrical love duets of Didon and Énée. It is Hector Berlioz's largest work and he wrote the libretto himself, drawing upon his intimate knowledge of Virgil's Aeneid. To the composer's disappointment, Les Troyens was only performed once in full during his lifetime. It was often presented in shortened form during the 20th century. The Royal Opera's production provides a rare chance to see this epic work in its entirety.