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Berlioz wrote about this early opera "a variety of ideas, a vitality and Zest and a brilliance of musical colour as I shall never find again." The opera is full of the colour of Italy,moving very quickly,and is unlike any other music he wrote again.Which contradicts the fact that he said he did not like the modern Italy of the time. The opera is based upon the memoirs of the Renaissance Florentine goldsmith and sculptor Cellini.This first opera was given at the Paris opera in 1838. From the opera comes the famous Roman Carnival overture. Naturally, the opera was not sucessful.It was from his writing that he survived. As a composer once stated"Berlioz died beneath the walls of Troy".His music and operas were misunderstood in France, although he was considered a master of orchestration.He was also the first of the true modern conductors. His work was popular in England, Germany and Russia, not in his homeland of France.
According to the notes ,the opera concerns Cellini's wooing of Teresa, the daughter of the papal treasurer,Balducci,who would prefer Teresa to marry Cellini's rival, the cowardly Fieramosca. When Cellini attempts to abduct Teresa at Carnival time, a fight ensues in which Cellini kills Fieramosca's hired assassin. Cellini disappears,returns under the cover of a monks procession, is arrested, and is pardoned by the Pope only on the hurried completion of commissioned statue of Perseus. You may think how can Berlioz make a opera out of these ideas, and make it funny in parts. He does.
The notes also state" a mix of futurism a la Metropolis, fantasy,a la Batman,juxtaposed in the form of photo montages,also a helicopter, a shark and the winged vechile of the Pope." Metropolis was a German film directed by Fritz Lang in 1927. The first Sci-fi film. The feminoid robot is an evil double of Maria, a pacifist attempting to help the workers. The robot goes from dancing naked in a decadent nightspot and inciting a riot in the film. The robot is Ascanio an assistant to Cellini in this opera. So you can see the relationship between the film and the opera, for the Robot is involved in the carnaval.There is a connection, but she is not evil.
At the beginning, the dark background is a cityscape, an updated version of the city in Metropolis. The two colourful robots helpers to Teresa, are inspired by Metropolis. After the beautiful aria, Teresa wears a light yellow dress, the two robots have blue light shone on them, the same tones as the Yellow and the orange doorway at the side. Blue and Yellow are complimentary colours. The carnaval is a riot of light colours, all blended in with a dark ultramarine background.Every movement and colour is well thought out. The Shark is used as a stage to poke fun at Balducci,Mr money bags. Themes and tunes come thick and fast, with a Rossini zest, but sounding nothing like it. His sound is so unusual because Berlioz couldnt play a piano ,but a guitar. Listen to the choir singing words to the Roman Carnival theme, unbelievable. How can people miss such a performance as this because of this nonsense about modern vs traditional staging. Act one is simply beautiful and full of youthful Zest.
The Pope arrives in Act 11, in pink with his helpers dressed the same, a rock star pope. He wants his Statue. After a period of time he does get it. But in between the workers go on strike and will not cast the statue. Teresa and Ascanio think Cellini has been murdered, but he hasnt. The workers attack Fieramosca and find gold in his pockets to bribe the workers to stop working.Cellini turns up gives his rival the chance to work on the statue,or thrown in the furnace. Naturally, he chooses life. The end is cheerful. Cellini obtains the Popes forgiveness and Teresas hand.
You may notice the robot out of Metropolis, which is apt for the scene with the workers. At one point, the robot has no head, it is singing while sticking out the floor. A imaginative touch. Near the beginning of Act there is a marvellous duo between Ascanio and Teresa and some monks are passing singing in Latin. See the dark background and how the Green costume and Gold robot suit stand out. Act 11 is darker then Act One. In this act you see Berlioz mixing together Masses, symphonic music, arias and lighter music. At that time no one else was doing this. The Furnace scene has to be seen to be believed and heard. Parts of Act One do remind me of Rameau's Les Indes Galantes,by Rameau and conducted by Christie.
The stage director is Phillip Stozl who directed Rienzi. He follows the Libretto. You can just watch the Blu Ray and you get the idea of what is happening. That is his tradmark. He was a film director.The Vienna Philharmonica is conducted by Valery Gergiev extremely fast. Which shows how this helps the choir and singers. You can hear the themes so clearly.Cellini is Burkhard Fritz suited for the part. Teresa is 26 year old Marja Kovalesvska with a beautiful voice, ideal for this part. Fieramosca Laurent Naouri is funny in his role,he has been around for a while. Then we have the Mezzo, Kate Aldrich. I have seen her in a few Blurays and what can one say. The crowd went bonkers when she gave her bow at the end. All the roles are well sung. The scenery and the colours are the best,very sophisicated. This is a Bluray you can love regardless of taste. Who would have believed this came out of the 2007 Salzburg Festival. Bravi.