New on Naxos Opera: Hector Berlioz’ Benvenuto Cellini

Live Performance from 2007 Features Valery Gergiev and the Vienna Philharmonic

“The production was the most spectacular in recent memory,” notes Opera News reviewer Jörg von Uthmann. “Among the singers, Maija Kovalevska’s Teresa stood out. She mastered her top notes and lyrical cantilenas… and displayed a nice sense of humor … Kate Aldrich was a charming Ascanio, Cellini’s apprentice, who appeared in the guise of a robot; her “Tralala” in Act II brought the house down. Mikhail Petrenko was a sonorous, though by no means pious, pope. ”

On December 15, Naxos releases Hector Berlioz’s first opera, Benvenuto Cellini. Recorded live at the 2007 Salzburg Festival, the opera features the Vienna Philharmonic led by Valery Gergiev and soloists who include Burkhard Fritz in the title role; Latvian soprano Maija Kovalevska as Terese; Laurent Naouri (Fieramosca); Brindley Sherratt (Giacomo Balducci); Mikail Petrenko (Pope Clemens VII) and Kate Aldrich (Ascanio). Stage direction is by Philipp Stöltzl.

Loosely based on the life of the Florentine sculptor and painter, Benvenuto Cellini (1834-7) was the work of a young Berlioz, and falls during the same time period as his well-known Harold in Italy and Requiem. With libretto by Léon de Wailly and Auguste Barbier, Benvenuto Cellini originally was conceived as an opéra comique with spoken dialogue. After the opera was rejected by the Paris Opéra Comique in 1834, it was revised to a two-act opera without spoken dialogue. Unfortunately, the revision didn’t save the opera-at its premiere at the Paris Opera in September of 1838, the audience was said to have rioted.

In 1851, composer Franz Liszt suggested reviving the opera in Weimar, and made many suggestions to improve the score. The newly-revised opera was performed in Weimar (1852) and in London (1853), but the new version didn’t improve its reception. Nonetheless, the revised score was published in 1856. In 1863 a French edition was published, followed by a critical edition-more than one hundred years later-(1996), edited by Hugh MacDonald for The Berlioz Edition (Bärenreiter Verlag).