Opera Scotland

Benvenuto Cellini

Music

Hector Berlioz (born La Côte St André, Isère, 11 December 1803; died Paris, 8 March 1869).

Text

Léon de Wailly and Auguste Barbier.

Source

Memoirs (published 1730) of Benvenuto Cellini (1500-71).

 

Premieres

First Performance: Paris (Opéra), 10 September 1838.

First Performance (revised): Weimar (Hoftheater), 20 March 1852.

First Performance in UK: London (Covent Garden), 25 June 1853.

First Performance in Scotland: Glasgow (Theatre Royal), 23 March 1936.

Scottish Opera premiere: N/A.

 

Background

Benvenuto Cellini  was not the composer's first attempt at producing an opera, Les Francs Juges having been abandoned earlier, but even so, it was a crazily ambitious subject to attempt. It contains two of the best known sequences from all of Berlioz's music, the overture and the Roman Carnival sequence, which was itself also adapted into a concert overture. Yet the main opera proper is little known, and very rarely performed. It certainly has faults of structure and motivation, and the climax, depicting the casting of his masterpiece, a huge bronze sculpture of Perseus, is almost unstageable, and, if anything, more nonsensical than Siegfried's Forging Song. However the opera overall has a wonderful vitality which disarms criticism.

The first version to reach the stage was already a substantial revision, with the original dialogue removed in favour of grand opera-style recitative, and had a disastrous reception. It was put away for a few years, being revived, and revised, at Liszt's suggestion. That became the standard version (used by Glasgow Grand and for a Carl Rosa production in the fifties), In 1966, a staging at Covent Garden gave a first outing to the original version with dialogue. That production was takenby the Royal Opera on its visit to La Scala Milan in 1976, and is now the accepted text.

 

Main Characters

Giacomo Balducci, Papal Treasurer (bass)

Teresa, his daughter (soprano)

Benvenuto Cellini, a Florentine artist and sculptor (tenor)

Fieramosca, sculptor to the Pope (baritone)

Ascanio, Cellini's apprentice (mezzo-soprano)

Pompeo, metal founder to the Pope (tenor)

Pope Clement VII (bass)

 

Plot Summary

The Pope has commissioned a statue of Perseus from Cellini. This has annoyed Balducci, who had expected the commission to go to his prospective son-in-law, Fieramosca. Teresa in fact loves Cellini, and they decide to elope. Fieramosca overhears this scheme and decides to prevent it. The following evening, in the Piazza Colonna, crowds gather to watch open air theatre. As the Shrovetide Carnival celebrations get under way the crowd begins to get unruly. A fight breaks out, Cellini and Ascanio versus Fieramosca and Pompeo, during which the latter is killed by Cellini, who makes his escape as the celebrations end.

At dawn on Ash Wednesday, Cellini returns to his studio, where Teresa and Ascanio have been waiting anxiously. He says they must all leave immediately for Florence, but is forestalled by the arrival of Balducci and Fieramosca. As they denounce Cellini, the Pope himself arrives, interested only in his statue of Perseus. All sins will be absolved if it is successfully cast that day - and Cellini will also marry Teresa. But if the statue is not cast then Cellini will be hanged. That evening, the work reaches its climax - the foundrymen set to work melting the bronze in the cauldron. They force Fieramosca to help when his attempt to bribe them all fails. When it is clear that there isn't enough metal in the cauldron, previously completed works are added to the molten bronze. At last it is all poured into the mould, just filling it, and, to the Pope's great delight, the wonderful statue of Perseus is revealed. God's will has clearly been done.

The Cast

Ascanio
 Cellini's apprentice
Balducci
 Papal Treasurer
Benvenuto Cellini
 a Florentine sculptor
Bernardino
 a workman in Cellini's foundry
Fieramosca
 Sculptor to the Pope
Fieramosca
 sculptor to the Pope
Francesco
 a workman in Cellini's foundry
Innkeeper
 
Innkeeper
 
Pompeo
 metal founder to the Pope
Pompeo
 matal founder to the Pope
Pope Clement VII
 
Teresa
 Balducci's daughter

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