[Met Performance] CID:350833
Metropolitan Opera Premiere
Benvenuto Cellini {1} Metropolitan Opera House: 12/04/2003.

(Debuts: Andrei Serban, Nikolaus Wolcz, Galen Scott Bower

Metropolitan Opera House
December 4, 2003

Metropolitan Opera Premiere

Hector Berlioz--Léon de Wailly/Henri August Barbier

Giacomo Balducci.........John Del Carlo
Teresa...................Isabel Bayrakdarian
Benvenuto Cellini........Marcello Giordani
Bernardino...............Patrick Carfizzi
Francesco................Eduardo Valdes
Innkeeper................Bernard Fitch
Ascanio..................Kristine Jepson
Fieramosca...............Alan Opie
Pompeo...................Galen Scott Bower [Debut]
Pope Clément VII.........Robert Lloyd

Conductor................James Levine

Production...............Andrei Serban [Debut]
Set Designer.............George Tsypin
Costume Designer.........Georgi Alexi-Meskhishvili
Lighting Designer........James F. Ingalls
Choreographer............Nikolaus Wolcz [Debut]

Benvenuto Cellini received eight performances this season.

The production a gift of The Fan Fox and Leslie R. Samuels Foundation, Inc.
Additional production gifts from Bill Rollnick and Nancy Ellison Rollnick, and Mr. and Mrs. Ezra K. Zilkha.
Supporting gift from The Eleanor Naylor Dana Charitable Trust

Review of David J. Baker in the March 2004 issue of OPERA NEWS

The Met's Berlioz bicentennial celebration started last season with a new "Les Troyens" and now (Dec. 4) has enriched the company's repertoire with his remarkable "Benvenuto Cellini." It's safe to predict that this most neglected of Berlioz's operas will not become a regular at Lincoln Center anytime soon, but the production is not to blame. In his house debut, director Andrei Serban's unbounded energy, along with flashy sets and costumes and a lively cast under steadfast James Levine, made a good case for a score that even its admirers in the nineteenth century were prone to tamper with. The Met is following the Hugh Macdonald musical edition, which is as faithful as scholarship can get to original, preferable 1838 version.

In their free adaptation of Cellini's autobiography from the 1550s, the librettists crafted clever scenes: a boudoir threesome, a turbulent carnival, a confrontation with the pope, no less, and the casting of the famous bronze "Perseus with the Head of Medusa," which wins the heroine for the young sculptor. But for all its stages worthiness, the opera seems to keep singers and audiences off guard. Melodic riches tumble at us pell-mell, as if from a cornucopia, without the reassuring landmarks and pacing of a bel canto opera. Basically, Berlioz is less interested in voice than in drama, which inspires him to all kinds of harmonic and contrapuntal adventures. Singers can sound hard-pressed by all this invention, as if they were trying to perform instrumental music. At this performance, even the hero's two splendid, lyrical soliloquies did not seem to connect particularly with the audience, despite controlled, sensitive and robust singing by Marcello Giordani as Cellinii.

It would have been interesting to hear Levine conduct this youthful work decades ago, when he mustered a bit more temperament. On this occasion he was a steadying force, intent on balance and overall cohesion - no small achievement in this tricky enterprise. His cast was about as strong as can be found today, backed by male choristers in excellent form. In the grueling title role, tenor Giordani created a vivid portrait of the quick-witted young firebrand. Both female leads, once past their tough early arias, proved unusually engaging. As Teresa, Celliini's love interest, Isabel Bayrakdarian was properly mischievous and produced lovely cantilena in her duets with tenor and mezzo. Kristine Jepson, in the trouser role of apprentice Ascanio, had the audience in the palm of her hand.

Also fine were the three buffo villains, or semi-villains: Teresa's father, Balducci (John Del Carlo); her middle-aged suitor, the sculptor Fieramosca (Alan Opie); and the nasal Innkeeper (Bernard Fitch). A towering presence, despite his imprisonment in a wheelchair for comic effect, was Robert Lloyd as Pope Clement VII. Lloyd's gravelly timbre gave full force to the low-lying music that has foiled others in the role.

Serban unleashed his imaginative staging in an all-white, nearly circular unit set by
George Tsypin that soared up to the full height of the proscenium and revolved, not to change locations but basically just to show us it could. "Commedia dell'arte" extras were probably twice as numerous as necessary, but they lent atmosphere that turned dark in places. Color was provided by Georgi Alexi-Meskhishvili's brilliant Renaissance costumes and James F. Ingalls's ingenious lighting, which bathed the set in atmospheric, sometimes infernal hues.

Any "Benevento Cellini" needs a strong finish in the unveiling of the great "Perseus," and this version went all out. Standing like a huge hourglass three times the real size, the covered work-in-progress commanded center stage throughout the opera, until it finally was lifted, spun on its axis and tipped head over heels, a procedure surely unknown in Renaissance foundries.

But the spirit suits the exciting music. The one unforgivable touch was the mute
character Serban invented, a young man in nineteenth-century garb, seen walking through the set, or suspended above it, quill and paper in hand. He turns out to be Hector Berlioz - jotting down the music as we hear it. As tributes go, it's the visual equivalent of a gushy Hollywood award speech, but because it's so extraneous, it would be easy enough to delete from future revivals.

Production photos of Benvenuto Cellini by Ken Howard / Metropolitan Opera:

Added Index Entries for Subjects and Names

Back to short citation(s).