Notes and Editorial Reviews
This is another of Berlioz's problem children. First composed with spoken dialogue, it was rejected by the Opéra-Comique; Berlioz revised it and the Paris Opera accepted it, where it premiered in September, 1838. It was a fiasco. With the greatest tenor of his age, Gilbert Duprez, in terrible voice it was booed from start to finish. After a brief run it was unperformed for 14 years. Berlioz made extensive changes and Liszt conducted it in Weimar, after which the composer made even more changes. This recording, taped live in Rome in 1973, cuts about 20 minutes of the score and rearranges a few numbers in Act 2.
It is a very busy, complexly orchestrated work replete with Berlioz's usual difficult, changing tempos and
rhythms, ensembles and choruses that always are on the verge of spinning out of control, and vocal lines that are, in a word, wicked. Cellini is written for a high tenor of heroic proportions (lots of his music is sung against full orchestra and/or chorus), Teresa must have flexibility and easy high notes, Balducci is a long character-baritone role that must fairly pop out of the drama, and the choral writing, particularly for the men, requires virtuosos. It is unique in its irony, ferocity, and whimsy--and, set against the backdrop of the Roman Carnival, it has an almost terrifying energy. There has been only one commercial recording of the work, under Colin Davis in 1972 with the amazing Nicolai Gedda in the title role and a pretty terrific supporting cast, and now the present one has appeared on CD.
A one-word description of this performance would be "aggressive". Granted, it does have spectacular vitality, but on top of that, Seiji Ozawa opts for tempos that can be so fast that you wonder if he is trying to prove a point. If he is trying, it works. Ozawa can keep it together and produce a thrill-a-minute--but in the doing, the opera loses a great deal of its French feel and elegance. Nevertheless, there's much to admire: The Rome orchestra plays handsomely, the chorus is gloriously straight-jacketed into its individual parts, and never is anyone lost in the weird syncopations.
Franco Bonisolli as Cellini is a big-voiced Italian tenor who very rarely sings below a roar, but he performs with amazing conviction and security (and an added, uninvited-if-on-the-money high-D in his final aria), with clear French diction. He tires the ear, but you can't deny the power of his portrayal. Teresa Zylis-Gara is taxed by Teresa's music, slurs some fiorature, and seems to wish the whole role sat a bit lower, but she has class and can sing very prettily when called for. (Christine Eda-Pierre for Davis was not great either.) Pierre Thau's Balducci is first rate and Robert Amis El Hage sings the Cardinal's music with great authority--he's both a bully and an appreciator of art, just as Berlioz wished. Elisabeth Steiner as Ascanio, Cellini's apprentice, is hideous, and Fieramosca (Teresa's suitor) is well sung by Wolfgang Brendel but is blander than he should be. So? This certainly excites, and if you already own the Davis, this will either be redundant or make a nice comparison--especially at such a low price. But get ready for a manic, brash, loud ride.
--Robert Levine, ClassicsToday.com
Works on This Recording
Benvenuto Cellini by Hector Berlioz
Franco Bonisolli (Tenor),
Teresa Zylis-Gara (Soprano),
Wolfgang Brendel (Baritone),
Elisabeth Steiner (Mezzo Soprano),
Gino Sinimberghi (Tenor),
Pierre Thau (Bass),
James Loomis (Bass),
Robert Amis El Hage (Bass),
Tommaso Frascati (Tenor)
Italian Radio Symphony Orchestra Rome,
Italian Radio Chorus Rome
Written: 1834-1837; France
Date of Recording: 05/08/1973
Length: 142 Minutes 11 Secs.
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