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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
This production is completely offensive and ridiculous. Unfortunately there seems to be no alternative production. However, do NOT buy this one. Read morePublished 18 months ago by T. Weaver
How could they do this to Hector Berlioz? He was one of the greatest composers of his time. Les Troyens is arguable the greatest opera of it's time. Read morePublished on May 4, 2011 by Dr. John W. Rippon
I cannot stand so-called Euro-trash productions, but people like to grab hold of that term, and apply it to any modernized opera. Read morePublished on January 13, 2011 by Bryan Leech
|Topic||From this Discussion|
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