Salzburg Festival -2007 (Part 2)
Hector Berlioz in opera and concert
Another new production at this festival was Berlioz’s rarely performed opera, Benvenuto Cellini. Here was a character of epic operatic proportions, being a celebrated sculptor, goldsmith, author, soldier, musician, playboy, gangster and occasional murderer. The libretto centered around the completion of a statue which Pope Clemens VII had commissioned from Cellini and the sculptor’s love affair with Teresa, daughter of Balducci. The latter was secretary to the pope and is adamant that Teresa breaks off all contact with Cellini. Instead he wants his daughter to marry his friend Fieramosca. The two lovers, Cellini and Teresa, escape and the pope gives Cellini a deadline to complete the statue. Despite difficulties, the statue is finally cast and the sculptor receives permission to marry Teresa by the Pope himself.
The action, which includes a Roman carnival, lends itself to many dramatic possibilities. Director and producer, Philipp Stölzl, pulled out all the stops, maybe even too many of them! The opera was played out in an ultramodern futuristic garish metropolis. Cellini himself alighted from a helicopter on the roof of Balducci's apartment. His assistant, Ascanio, was dressed as a robot. The Pope made his entrance in a shining red car. He proved to be a jovial fellow, dispatching high fives as well as much back slapping.
The singing was good. Highest accolades go to the Latvian soprano Maija Kovalevska, in the role of Teresa. She dominated the proceedings with her beautiful and dramatic voice and impressive stage presence. The arduous role of Cellini was sung by tenor Burkhard Fritz who took over after Neil Shicoff pulled out of this production. His voice had plenty of power and for the most part, he got through this very taxing and demanding role very admirably. The American soprano Kate Aldrich singing with dramatic intensity was a very good Ascanio. Russian bass Mikhail Petrenko was a competent Pope Clemens VII. Brindley Sherratt as Balducci had a rich and commanding voice.
The Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra was conducted by Valery Gergiev but their performance was not up to their usual standard of excellence. Berlioz was a master orchestrator but few of the subtleties of this dramatic score were evident and the singers were often drowned out. This may be attributed to sheer exhaustion. On the night I heard them, this orchestra had already given a concert in the morning under Riccardo Muti, as well as a performance of Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro in the afternoon. Now with Benvenuto Cellini at night, a complicated score not in their usual repertoire, this may have been just too much.
The Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra was in much better form in a performance of a rare semi-theatrical work by Berlioz, Lélio ou Le Retour à la vie (Lélio, or the Return to Life). This combines music and dramatic monologues to express the rejection of a woman’s love. The idée fixe, the recurrent theme from Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique, appears at the beginning and the end of Lélio. The role of the speaker was most effectively portrayed by actor Gerard Depardieu. Tenor Michael Schade and baritone Ludovic Tezier were both vocally sturdy and resonant. This work as well as the Symphonie fantastique were both given an exciting and visceral performance by conductor Riccardo Muti. The polished sheen of the strings, the gleaming brass and lyrical woodwinds of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra were at their incomparable best and this made for a very satisfying and unforgettable performance.