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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
An Inauthentic BenvenutoDec 23 2009
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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. Maija Kovalevska, Teresa, is one of the second generation of singers from the former Soviet Union. It is generically pretty, without a hint of the singers' ethnic background, e.g., slavic shrillness. Brindley Sherratt, from the UK and a voice I was not familiar with sings Balducci; the role is not a showcase for the singer, but he makes the most of what is really an ungrateful role. The only Frenchman in sight is Laurent Naouri as Fieramosca. The best singing of the evening came from the American Kate Aldrich. Vocally she was stunning; dramatically she was hamstrung by having to be a robot.
Unfortunately Cellini does not have what can be called a performing tradition. It is difficult to sing and doubtless expensive to stage. Early on its history was one of failure for the composer. Add to that the variety of textual differences. Initially it was intended for the Comique and included dialogue. For the Opera recitatives were required. And in Weimar Berlioz shortened the text eliminating "buffo" elements. The first recording (and in my estimation still the best sung) under Colin Davis includeds dialogue and a bevy for French trained singers. Gedda was, of course, not French trained, but was sensitive to the text and the style. The most recent recording on Virgin was conducted by John Nelson a sensitive Berliozan. Why he chose Gregory Kunde is a mystery as the role truly eludes him as it eludes Fritz--although differently. Nelson includes about twenty minutes of music that had never been heard. Since the notes for the DVD (more generous that most) do not make reference to the edition used, on that there are a number of textual difference, the listener is required to be a bit of a musicologist.
In spite of the above criticisms and the "three star" rating I have to recommend the set simply because you are not likely to see another in the near (or distant) future. The Met has never revived its first production even though Troyens has had two investitures. After watching this DVD listen to the first recorded performance to give you an idea as to what could have been.
23 of 27 people found the following review helpful
Performance: 5; Production: 1Dec 27 2009
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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.
18 of 22 people found the following review helpful
A treat for the ears; trash for the eyesDec 22 2009
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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. It is unlikely that we will see another Cellini on DVD so this will have to do. In spite of the production it gave me a lot of pleasure from the singing and acting. God knows Berlioz doesn't need help from "friends" like these. Today we are beginning to recognize Cellini as one of Berlioz' masterpieces. If you can turn off the background idiocy the genius of Berlioz shines through.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
A brilliantly entertaining take on a rare work by a geniusJan. 13 2011
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I cannot stand so-called Euro-trash productions, but people like to grab hold of that term, and apply it to any modernized opera. This is modernized in the extreme, but with a purpose, and for me, the result is highly entertaining, and turns an imperfect opera (it hurts me to say that, as I think Berlioz is under-rated, and the greatest musical genius of his time).
I must admit, this is my first encounter this work, but far from my first encounter with Berlioz. I am not going to enter into detail of this opera, as that has been thoroughly done by another reviewer. The only trouble with that review, is that it offers critique on the performance as you would if reviewing, say, Verdi's Don Carlo, and reviewing from such a stance in this case, is totally inappropriate.
Obviously, it was decided to produce this in a way that would keep the audience totally entertained, and not notice the weak aspects of the opera. To me, after the initial shock at the very elaborate staging (and quickly realizing, that this was an occasion when a "way-out" reading would succeed. Now this is a rare case where extreme, whacky, modernization fully suuceeds. I can imagine others may not find the approach appropriate.
In considering an opera as a whole and ask "do all the elements work together in unity that leads to a successful production?". For me, the answer is an unequivocal "yes". Berlioz may be confused by it, but I think he would be thrilled as well. The performance could not be in better hands.Kovalevska dazzles with her stunning voice, and personality to match. Fritz as Cellini, is given less of an opportunity to reveal his voice, but when given good opportunities, reveals himself a match for Kovalevska.The other soloists maintain the standard set by the leads. And with the Vienna Phil and Chorus(there are some wonderfful choral sections) under Gergiev, what more could one want? And my answer there, is Blu-ray. Sound and widescren vision present a flawless viewing experience.
This DVD occupies an honoured place in my collection, and I would suggest it hold a sinilar position in the collection of any opera lover who also love's Berlioz. This is the only performance on video media.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Sheer DelightDec 23 2009
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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.