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Robert Benson
ClassicalCDReview.com, August 2011

BERLIOZ, H.: Benvenuto Cellini (Salzburg Festival, 2007) (NTSC) 2.110271
BERLIOZ, H.: Benvenuto Cellini (Salzburg Festival, 2007) (Blu-ray, HD) NBD0006

Valery Gergiev conducts two Berlioz operas, Benvenuto Cellini in a performance from the 2007 Salzburg Festival…Benvenuto Cellini is as close as Berlioz ever got to writing a comic opera and this colorful over the top production by Philipp Stötzl is appropriate. It is one big, bizarre cartoon including robots, a helicopter, fireworks, outlandish costumes and projected effects. The cast is uniformly excellent although tenor Burkhard Fritz in the title role doesn’t settle into the role until after the first scene…




Adrian Corleonis
Fanfare, November 2010

If the means are questionable—ditching Berlioz’s artist-as-hero conception and larding the stage business with sleaze—Benvenuto Cellini is riotously in-your-face revealed, again, as a great comic masterpiece. Listeners and Berliozians have long known this, but the visual component confirms it irresistibly—so much so that the superbly virtuosic vocalism seems almost beside the point.



John Terauds
Toronto Star, August 2010

Fortunately, the over-the-top production is sung and played about as beautifully as anyone could want. Russian conductor Valéry Gergiev and the Vienna Philharmonic make the richly dramatic score blaze with colour. The singers are excellent, especially tenor Burkhard Fritz in the title role and beautiful Latvian soprano Maija Kovalevska as his beloved Teresa...There are no extras on the single DVD, but the booklet comes with plenty of background information.



Paul Turok
Turok’s Choice, May 2010

Berlioz’s Benvenuto Cellini was splendidly performed at the Salzburg Festival in 2007 (2.110271). Valery Gergiev conducted forces of the Vienna Opera, with Burkhard Fritz (Cellini), Maija Kovalevska (Teresa), Laurent Naouri (Fieramosca), Brindley Sherratt (Balducci) and Mikhail Petrenko (Pope Clemens VII) in the major roles. Stage Director Phillipp Stölzl updates the work to the 20th-century, which enhances the comic elements by lessening the on-stage effect of such serious characters as Cellini or the Pope, while preserving the madcap aspects of the tavern scene and the carnival on the Piazza Colonna. A brief summary of the action is included, because this opera is seldom mounted: it opens in Balducci’s house. His daughter, Teresa, is in love with Cellini who providently shows up just as her father, the Papal Treasurer, leaves for the Vatican. Balducci expects her to marry Fieramosca, a slippery character who spies on Teresa and Cellini, thereby overhearing the plan to abduct Teresa (so as to secure her for Cellini). Fieramosca will try to abduct her himself, on the basis of what he learns. The scene changes to a tavern, then to the carnival scene, with brilliant choral writing Berlioz later converted into his “Roman Carnival Overture.” Act II opens with Teresa in Cellini’s studio. The Pope has commissioned a statue from Cellini, which has not been cast. He promises to marry Teresa to Cellini if he successfully casts the statue; if the casting fails, Cellini will be hanged. The remainder of the opera consists of the casting scene (eventually successful) so the opera ends happily. There is great vitality to the music in this opera, with lots of great tunes. The music for the casting scene is particularly inventive, even for Berlioz. The modernization leads to several odd moments like Cellini’s early arrival in a helicopter and his assistant, Ascanio, being a robot. The singing is first rate throughout and the pacing brilliant. The sound is excellent (in all three formats) as is the video. Classy production of an impressive opera. Recommended.



Janos Gardonyi
The WholeNote, February 2010

One could be hard pressed to give an unbiased judgment on this “controversial” production of Berlioz’ first opera and undoubted masterpiece. Controversial, as director Philipp Stölzl created a fun filled futuristic fantasy extravaganza, placed in a New York-like setting filled with helicopters, robots and even a whale. So one could ask: what has this got to do with 16th century Rome? However, if you think about it, swashbuckling Cellini was himself no ordinary person, but one whose life story could fill a novel, and the first truly Romantic hero, ahead of his time. Obviously no ordinary treatment would do and so the director created a vastly different, anachronistic but constantly fascinating and innovative theatrical experience. Perhaps he went overboard a bit with the robots, but his imagination really knew no limits. In this respect he emulates the composer, young Berlioz who also “pushed the envelope” musically with extremely difficult singing roles, double, triple, quadruple choruses and cross rhythms etc.

To control this mammoth task a master conductor is required, of course. About 30 years ago it was Sir Colin Davis who rediscovered and recorded the opera, but now it is the incomparable Valery Gergiev who can propel his orchestra, the Vienna Philharmonic, into the Berliozian stratosphere.

Burkhard Fritz as Benvenuto is a strong heroic tenor and copes well with the vocal demands of the role, while Maria Kovalevska as his beloved Teresa enchants us with her lovely voice and physical beauty. English baritone Brindley Sherratt is very capable and convincing as Balducci, the Pope’s treasurer. In the supporting cast American soprano Kate Aldrich is superb as Ascanio and Russian bass Mikhail Petrenko creates a hilarious cameo role as the Pope. The production is a visual stunner and comes together wonderfully, particularly at the carnival scene with a Brueghelesque feel about it. And just wait till you see the ending which is like a Vesuvian eruption with a giant foundry engulfed in flames, smoke and molten iron!



Paul E. Robinson
La Scena Musicale, February 2010

Berlioz was one of the great innovators in the history of music. In every sense he fit the description comedian Steve Martin often gave of himself as “a wild and crazy guy.” His music remains fresh, surprising and beautiful. Now at last, in the case of his 1838 opera Benvenuto Cellini,we have a stage production worthy of the music. German director Philipp Stölzl was chosen for the job even though his main qualifications were pop music videos and commercials. But Stölzl got it mostly right in this 2007 Salzburg Festival production. As he put it in an interview included in the Salzburg programme,“For me, the overboard, lunatic, fanciful things are the core of this opera—this odd mixture of the buffo and the operetta, comic-strip-like scenes of slapstick and eavesdropping, sentimental melodrama and fireworks of nigh-Wagnerian proportion.”

Stölzl sets the opera not in the sixteenth century, as it is supposed to be, but in some imagined near future with helicopters, robots and Star Wars characters. Sets and costumes are fantastic and colourful and there is rarely a dull moment. Not all of it makes sense but it is certainly imaginative and entertaining. But one big question: how come we don’t get to see Cellini’s bronze statue at the end? When the Met staged Benvenuto Cellini in 2003 this was one of the great moments.

The singing is magnificent with not a weak link in the cast, from Heldentenor Burkhard Fritz down to innkeeper/storekeeper, Sung-Keun Park. The ferociously difficult choral parts come off splendidly even at Gergiev’s breakneck tempi.The quality of the video production, headed by Andreas Morell, is state of the art.



David Denton
David's Review Corner, November 2009

If you have not read the reviews of the 2007 Salzburg Festival production of Berlioz’s love story, Benvenuto Cellini, then with an open mind expect to see the unexpected. Cellini arrives by helicopter; Teresa’s servants are robots; the carnival scene is a massive modern riot of colour, the mouth of a massive fish opening up to form a stage, and the elaborate set for the final scene provides a superb piece of stage trickery. The opera exists in four different versions with a few added permutations, the enclosed booklet leaving unclear which this intends to be, though it seems to be a new look at the 1838 Paris version. The cast is excellent, Burkhard Fritz—sporting today’s obsession for a tattooed body—dealing comfortably with Cellini’s role, moving from the heroic to the lyric tenor with ease, the higher end of the voice tightening but agreeable. The pretty Latvian soprano, Maija Kovalevska, is the admirable Teresa, her finely spun tone immaculate in intonation and most pleasing to the ear. In the part of Cellini’s assistant, Ascanio—who in this staging is part human and part robot—the American mezzo, Kate Aldrich, almost upstages Kovalevska in her beautifully sung second act aria. The magnificent and fulsome voice of the Russian bass, Mikhail Petrenko, makes a truly magnificent Pope, and I much enjoy Laurent Naouri as Fieramosca. Sadly the microphones are not kindly disposed to Brindley Sherratt’s Balducci, as he is a singer of estimable quality. In the orchestra pit Valery Gergiev has inspired the Vienna Philharmonic to give as fine a performance as we have on audio disc, the State Opera Chorus superbly packing the stage with activity in the carnival. It is also the orchestra that seems to have captured the sound engineer’s attention, the voices presumably picked up by auditorium microphones, and at times not that well balanced. I do draw a line at the mockery made of the Pope, but for one who is well known for his vitriolic reviews of updated opera productions, I found myself enjoying the overall feel to this staging. It comes from the German film director and theatre producer, Philipp Stolzi, and if he could have resisted the more zany and provocative moments, it would have been a highly commendable updating of the 16th century story. Certainly the audience response was ecstatic. The picture quality is outstanding; the filming ideally mixing long distance and close-ups to relate the story. It is—of course—sung in French and has the option of English subtitles.






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