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DVD: AmazonUK AmazonUS

Hector BERLIOZ (1803-1869)
Benvenuto Cellini (1834-38) [163:35]
Benvenuto Cellini – Burkhard Fritz (tenor)
Teresa – Maija Kovalevska (soprano)
Fieramosca – Laurent Naouri (baritone)
Giacomo Balducci – Brindley Sherrat (bass)
Pope Clement VII – Mikhail Petrenko (bass)
Ascanio – Kate Aldrich (mezzo)
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, Vienna State Opera Chorus/Valery Gergiev
rec. Salzburg Festival, Großes Festspielhaus, Salzburg, 5, 10, 15 August 2007.
Philipp Stölzl (stage director and stage designer)
Kathi Maurer (costume design)
Duane Schuler (lighting design)
Mara Kurotschka (choreographer)
Picture format: NTSC 19:9
Sound format: Dolby Digital 2.0 / Dolby Surround 5.0 / DTS 5.0
Region code: 0 (worldwide)
Subtitles: English, French
NAXOS 2.110271 [164:00]


Experience Classicsonline

If this DVD is anything to go by, one has some sympathy for the management of the Paris Opéra in their dealings with Berlioz over productions of Benvenuto Cellini in the 1830s.
Although it was finally accepted for performance in 1838, the opera was plagued by difficulties from the start, ranging from the original conductor’s dislike of the work to the singers’ and audience’s overall indifference. One can see why. While vocally attractive and rich in colourful orchestration - including rustic Italianate guitar and tambourine - Benvenuto Cellini suffers from a loose plot based on scenes from the life of the Renaissance artist, and it lacks real show-stopping numbers.
For this 2007 Salzburg Festival production director and designer Philipp Stölzl has added to the staging difficulties with a bizarre and incongruous concept. Sets and costumes resemble a sci-fi fantasy – a cross between Metropolis and Star Wars – which is totally at odds with the sixteenth century setting and story-line of the opera. The result is that the opera’s shakily assembled scenes appear even more disjointed. Even worse, the goings-on on-stage don’t match what is sung in the libretto. Act I, for instance, is meant to take place in the midst of Rome’s carnival festivities, whereas in Stölzl’s staging the characters are inexplicably stuck on a rooftop. The crazy costumes and fantastical scenery only really work in the third scene of Act I, when the carnival crowds celebrate on the Piazza Colonna.
Overall, the singing is good but hardly inspired. Only Kate Aldrich is outstanding as Cellini’s friend and helper Ascanio - painfully dressed up as Star Wars’s C3PO in a gold robot costume. Her bright, secure voice glimmers in every scene in which she appears. Burkhard Fritz makes a firm-voiced but dispassionate Cellini. Maija Kovalevska certainly has the looks for Cellini’s lover Teresa, but she gets few opportunities to shine, and close-up shots reveal an unconvincing woodenness to her acting. The chorus of the Vienna State Opera also appear unsure of how to behave in their grotesquely over-the-top wigs and costumes.
Valery Gergiev exerts an iron fist over the forces of the Vienna Philharmonic, driving forward Berlioz’s rhythmic pulses at the expense of the sunnier, more delicate, aspects of the score. This clearly didn’t go down well with everyone in the audience. There are audible boos at the end of the performance as Gergiev takes his bow on stage, although not as many as those reserved for the sheepish-looking production team.
John-Pierre Joyce


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