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Berlioz - Benvenuto Cellini

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1-Disc Version

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Product Details

  • Actors: Laurent Naouri, Burkhard Fritz, Maija Kovalevska, Valery Gergiev, Kate Aldrich
  • Directors: Philipp Stolzl
  • Format: Multiple Formats, AC-3, Classical, Color, Dolby, DTS Surround Sound, NTSC, Widescreen
  • Language: French
  • Subtitles: English, French
  • Region: All Regions
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.77:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: NR (Not Rated)
  • Studio: Naxos DVD
  • DVD Release Date: December 15, 2009
  • Run Time: 164 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 3.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B002QXI2OK
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #123,966 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)

Special Features


Editorial Reviews

Product Description

'A mix of futurism à la Metropolis, fantasy à la Batman and quotes from Piranesi's Carceri, juxtaposed in the form of photo montages, enhanced with … robots, a helicopter, a shark and the winged vehicle of a pop star Pope', was how the Neue
Zürcher Zeitung described this astonishing Salzburg Festival production of Berlioz's
Benvenuto Cellini. The high-calibre cast, headed by Burkhard Fritz as the
temperamental Renaissance artist and the 26-year-old Latvian soprano Maija Kovalevska as Teresa, the woman with whom he tries to elope, is conducted by Valery Gergiev who 'pulled out all the stops. He whips the Vienna Philharmonic into
a delirium similar to that which possibly took hold of the composer'. (Der Standard)
This is French grand opera at its fast-paced and spectacularly-staged best.


Berlioz was one of the great innovators in the history of music. In every sense he fit the description comedian Steve Martin often gave of himself as "a wild and crazy guy." His music remains fresh, surprising and beautiful. Now at last, in the case of his 1838 opera Benvenuto Cellini,we have a stage production worthy of the music. German director Philipp Stölzl was chosen for the job even though his main qualifications were pop music videos and commercials. But Stölzl got it mostly right in this 2007 Salzburg Festival production.

Stölzl sets the opera not in the sixteenth century, as it is supposed to be, but in some imagined near future with helicopters, robots and Star Wars characters. Sets and costumes are fantastic and colourful and there is rarely a dull moment. Not all of it makes sense but it is certainly imaginative and entertaining. But one big question: how come we don't get to see Cellini's bronze statue at the end? When the Met staged Benvenuto Cellini in 2003 this was one of the great moments.

The singing is magnificent with not a weak link in the cast, from Heldentenor Burkhard Fritz down to innkeeper/storekeeper, Sung-Keun Park. The ferociously difficult choral parts come off splendidly even at Gergiev's breakneck tempi.The quality of the video production, headed by Andreas Morell, is state of the art. -- La Scena Musicale, Paul E. Robinson, February 2010

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. -- MusicWeb International, John-Pierre Joyce, February 2010

One could be hard pressed to give an unbiased judgment on this "controversial" production of Berlioz' first opera and undoubted masterpiece. Controversial, as director Philipp Stölzl created a fun filled futuristic fantasy extravaganza, placed in a New York-like setting filled with helicopters, robots and even a whale. So one could ask: what has this got to do with 16th century Rome? However, if you think about it, swashbuckling Cellini was himself no ordinary person, but one whose life story could fill a novel, and the first truly Romantic hero, ahead of his time. Obviously no ordinary treatment would do and so the director created a vastly different, anachronistic but constantly fascinating and innovative theatrical experience. Perhaps he went overboard a bit with the robots, but his imagination really knew no limits. In this respect he emulates the composer, young Berlioz who also "pushed the envelope" musically with extremely difficult singing roles, double, triple, quadruple choruses and cross rhythms etc.

To control this mammoth task a master conductor is required, of course. About 30 years ago it was Sir Colin Davis who rediscovered and recorded the opera, but now it is the incomparable Valery Gergiev who can propel his orchestra, the Vienna Philharmonic, into the Berliozian stratosphere.

Burkhard Fritz as Benvenuto is a strong heroic tenor and copes well with the vocal demands of the role, while Maria Kovalevska as his beloved Teresa enchants us with her lovely voice and physical beauty. English baritone Brindley Sherratt is very capable and convincing as Balducci, the Pope's treasurer. In the supporting cast American soprano Kate Aldrich is superb as Ascanio and Russian bass Mikhail Petrenko creates a hilarious cameo role as the Pope. The production is a visual stunner and comes together wonderfully, particularly at the carnival scene with a Brueghelesque feel about it. And just wait till you see the ending which is like a Vesuvian eruption with a giant foundry engulfed in flames, smoke and molten iron! -- The WholeNote, Janos Gardonyi, February 25, 2010

Customer Reviews

This production is a travesty.
Dr. John W. Rippon
Doesn't really seem appropriate for the style/period of which the composer wrote for.
C. Briley
The performance itself is quite good.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By DDD VINE VOICE on December 23, 2009
Format: DVD Verified Purchase
The Salzburg Festival has been responsible for three of Berlioz' masterpieces; for that I suppose we must be thankful. The Damnation of Faust is, of course, not an opera. The only staged version I have seen is one from Brussels with Jonas Kaufmann, Susan Graham and Jose Van Damm. It is worth seeing and owning. I have the Troyens and now Cellini. The former is currently available in three sets, but the Cellini has no challenger and is not likely to be contested. This is a pity since the work is clearly a masterpiece, but one that is difficult to bring off. Ideally it should be sung by French trained singers, or those who have an awareness of the style and the importance of the text. The orchestra and chorus should also be French. Berlioz created a unique sound; it deserves to be honored.

Where to start? Updating frequently can add interest and make the auditor rethink his/her ideas about the work in question. In this particular case it is simply silly. Cellini makes his appearance in Act I via a helicopter! The setting is a rooftop (in Rome?) and Balducci has two robots as servants. Oh yes, Ascanio is also a robot. An hommage to Star Wars? Don't ask. If the updating were witty, imaginative, artistic and relevant I would probably sound less churlish. As it stands, however, there is nothing about the staging that I find engaging or likeable. Salzburg became (under Mortier) a showcase for outrageous staging. Sometimes it worked and sometimes not.

All of this would be academic if the singing were world class. According to the notes, Burkhard Fritz has sung Cellini before. I understand that he sings frequently at Bayreuth; no matter, as the voice is not a beautiful one nor one that is used artistically.
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22 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Michael Schulman on December 27, 2009
Format: DVD
This is the first DVD of a very entertaining, tuneful, unjustly neglected opera, but if Berlioz & his librettists were to view it with the sound turned off (& without the introductory title & subtitles), they'd have no idea that it's "their work" being presented.

This deliberately outrageous Salzburg Festival production, with its helicopter, robots & a tattooed, rockstarrish Cellini in leather jacket, black T-shirt & jeans, renders the entire onstage enterprise a meaningless melange, with no relevance whatsoever to the historical time, place & characters the opera is about.

That said, the soloists, chorus, conductor & orchestra are all outstanding, performing with brilliance, high spirits & unflagging energy. They, as well as Berlioz & his librettists, the premium-paying Salzburg audience &, of course, we, the DVD-buying opera-loving public, all deserved better than this mindless Eurogarbage.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By T. C. on December 23, 2009
Format: DVD
Director and the designer Philipp Stoltz designed for the Salzburg Festival 2007 performance of Benvenuto Cellini a modern production, which is for my taste, charming and colorful. There is never a dull moment. He was also successful in retaining Berlioz's humor in this early masterpiece. Stage design is inventive and rich and everything flows with lightness and big amounts of energy. But I have no doubts that conservatives will object to some of Stoltz's ideas, like the way that he presents Pope Clement VII...

It is a very good performance musically too. Valery Gergiev conducts the Vienna Philharmonic with verve and a good sense of drama. From the singers one should mention Maija Kovalevska as an excellent Teresa and Kate Aldrich as a charming Ascanius, but all the other singers are doing a good job.

I enjoyed this opera DVD immensely.
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17 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Richard on December 22, 2009
Format: DVD Verified Purchase
With the wonders of DVD we are able to see operas which we may never have the chance to see live. Benvenuto Cellini is one of them. This performance fills a hole but is not what we want or need. The performance itself is quite good. The singers are all up to par and their acting skills are also honed. Gergiev's nervous energy keeps the Berlioz score jumping and glowing. He is perfectly on top of Berlioz' tempos and rhythms.
The production is another matter. At its best it is irrelevant: at its worst downright silly. To start with the first act seems to take place on the roof of a building looking out at a city skyscape - maybe New York. Who knows? But then we meet Mr and Mrs 3CPR as Teresa's servants. And as Anna Russell used to say, "You know I'm not making this up." Plus during the show there are various distractions projected on the back wall. Fireworks. And who knows what else.
Then we meet Cellini's apprentice Ascanio. He is R2D2 although much more feminine since this is a trouser role. Toward the end of the opera R2D2 literally loses his head. He has to sing his big aria with his head pushing up from the stage floor and his abandoned body running around desperately trying to reconnect. God knows why. Certainly there is enough action in Cellini for any director to have a ball without going out for the truly ghastly and stupid.
The pope has a role in this opera and here he appears as a lavender wearing drag queen surrounded by his foppish lackeys. Duh! Why! Is the director anti catholic. Is there some idea behind all this trash beyond the desire to be outrageous. And wait till you see the pope mobile.
At the least Regie directors should provide some game plan for their productions so that we have a slight chance of getting their message. That is provided there is one.
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Topic From this Discussion
Benvenuto Cellini
I am not a "purist" when it comes to operas, but I reject the idea of mking a Eurotrash out of operas. The Eurotrash directors ought to stay with the contemporary musicals, where anything goes. There should be a warning on the opera DVD-s that tells you that the opera had been... Read More
Jan 12, 2010 by R. Denes |  See all 3 posts
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