Sunday, March 14, 2010

Crummy Berlioz

Benvenuto Cellini is an opera that can be considered interesting because it shows a starting point to what would Berlioz's genius become 20 years later. Other than that, the opera is not really very interesting. OK, there are bits and pieces that are likable but overall it's long-winded and clumsily constructed: the drama isn't really taking off, while its comic part is desperately not funny. 

Happily Berlioz realized right after this opera that his language to touch the dramatic cord with the audience is music more than anything, and only a year later he composed his wonderful semi-opera Romeo et Juliette -- much-much better than Benvenuto Cellini

So if you're Berlioz fan and you take Benevenuto Cellini for what it is --an exercise, a building block in the learning process of young Berlioz, then you can give this DVD a try.  Otherwise you should keep in mind that life is short, and that there are so many other DVDs to see, books to read...  ;)

After his recent Rienzi, that I enjoyed very much, I appreciate quite a lot what  Philipp Stoelzl does, and I may be a bit biased when considering his part of the job in this production. One should keep in mind that this was his first attempt to produce an opera, and all things considered I think he did well. It is difficult to stage Benvenuto Cellini  because of its awkwardly composed intrigue that is stuck halfway between comedy and a more historical resemblance to Cellini. Stolzl obviously tried to make it more entertaining and gave it the carnivalesque atmosphere. The problem is that even that becomes tired after an hour and becomes a mess. Some of his scenic ideas make this production worth watching: I liked that the Pope Clement VII is actually a rock star here [most of the youngsters are nowadays far more impressed by an encounter with a famous rock star than with the Pope. :)]; also the idea of making Ascanio look like a clone of C-3PO was a good fit to the character too.

Another good reason to see this DVD is a short but brilliant appearance of Mikhail Petrenko. Also good was Laurent Naouri, but the outstanding performer in this production was Kate Aldrich. She is a really excellent singer and the moments she takes the stage there is no doubt who's the dominant singer there. Maija Kovalevska was supposed to be a new Russian phenom following the steps of Anna Netrebko, but despite the publicity she was given by Valery Gergiev, she didn't really live up to expectations. She's a very pretty girl, and has a nice voice but that's far from the sheer vocal beauty of Netrebko.

On the down side, I had to face the fact that I actually don't like Burkhard Fritz. He was quite bad in Lohengrin past November (in a rerun of the Herheim's production in Berlin, UDL), but this Cellini is far worse. There is no such a thing as legato in his voice; it is just a long struggle that I find uncomfortable to listen to.

Also disappointing was Valery Gergiev. He made the Wiener Philharmoniker sound messy, structureless and apathetic, i.e. dull and lifeless. He's obviously a great conductor, and before this DVD I would never think of him as someone with a tendency to dilute a score. That's what he did to this Berlioz: he washed the etching character of the music, making it structureless and often messy. I hope he stays far from Berlioz. It's good both for him and for Berlioz.

On the scale 1-5 :

CELLINI - Burkhard Fritz  2
ASCANIO - Kate Aldrich  5
TERESA - Maija Kovalevska 3-4
FIERAMOSCA - Laurent Naouri 4

Philipp Stolzl's production  4

Valery Gergiev 2

   Overall impression:  2-3  

Two Trailers

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