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The Sunday Opera: Hector Berlioz's "Benvenuto Cellini" in a Live 2003 Recording

Imagine, an opera about a historical figure who led a fascinating life whose libretto tells a totally fictitious story. We’ll hear just that on this week’s Sunday Opera (4/28 3:00 p.m.) in Hector Berlioz’s 1838 work “Benvenuto Cellini.” 

Cellini’s life was a very “colorful” one with many liaisons with a variety of sexual partners. All of that’s gone from this libretto by Leon de Wailly and Henri Auguste Barbier with the only factual part being that Cellini cast a statue of Perseus holding the head of Medusa. Everything else is pure fiction even though Berlioz wanted to write about Cellini because he read and fell in love with Cellini’s memoirs. 

In a nutshell, the story that has been conjured up regarding this goldsmith, sculptor, and author centers on his “love” for the fictitious Teresa, the daughter of a Papal Treasurer named Balducci. This is set against Cellini’s rivalry with the Papal sculptor named Fieramosca who does everything he can to ruin Cellini’s life. The backdrop for the action of the opera is the Florentine carnival. 

The recording to which we’ll be listening comes from 2003 and features Marcello Giordani in the title role. His Teresa is Isabel Bayrakdarian, and her father, Balducci is John Del Carlo, and his rival, Fieramosca, is Peter Coleman-Wright. Other members of the company include Patrick Carfizzi, Eduardo Valdes, Bernard Fitch, Kristine Jepson, Galen Scott Bower, and Robert Lloyd. James Levine conducts the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus. 

Following the opera, more music of Berlioz has been programmed including his popular Harold en Italie which was originally to be based on the poem Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage by Lord Byron, but the final product is said to have been based on aspects of Berlioz’s life making it a very personal piece. It was also written for Paganini, but Paganini refused it because he didn’t think it showed off his talents enough. However, after hearing it, he reportedly loved it and championed the piece. 

We’ll hear violist Antoine Tamestit with Les Musiciens du Louvre – Grenoble with Mark Minkowski conducting. 

Our final piece is the Waverly concert overture of a young Berlioz performed by the SWR Sinfonieorchestra Baden-Baden und Freiburg conducted by Sylvain Camberling. 

Join us for another wonderful afternoon of great music, this Sunday, on the Sunday Opera.

Michael is program host and host of the WWFM Sunday Opera, Sundays at 3 pm, and co-host of The Dress Circle, Sundays at 7 pm.
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