Benvenuto Cellini (concert performance), London, December 1999
Berlioz: the odyssey
Andrew Clements, The Guardian, 7 December 1999
Barbican Hall, London
Colin Davis and the London Symphony Orchestra have begun their Berlioz
odyssey, a massive project that will take in the composer's complete
orchestral and dramatic works. It will end in December 2000 with concert
performances of his operatic masterpiece The Trojans; it started on
Sunday with his first stage work, Benvenuto Cellini, in an electrifying
account that set the standard for what is to come.
Davis has been championing Berlioz for well over 30 years, and there is
still no one to touch him in this music. The moment he conducts a single
bar he seems transformed: the broad, contemplative way that he conducts
most orchestral works these days is replaced by youthful, boundless
enthusiasm, with whipcrack rhythms, effortlessly expressive phrasing and
the ability to judge exactly where the drama is to be found.
In Benvenuto Cellini, first staged disastrously in 1838 and then
endlessly revised and reshaped, the two big, opulent set pieces - the
carnival that ends the first act and the forging of the statue that is
the climax of the whole work - are preceded by action that is
dramaturgically creaky and sometimes illogical. Davis had made judicious
cuts for the Barbican performances, omitting a good deal of the dialogue
and a couple of ensembles, but there are still problems which even his
burning intensity couldn't obscure completely.
The cast was first rate - Giuseppe Sabbatini's tireless, passionate
Cellini, Elizabeth Futral's quicksilver Teresa, Laurent Naouri's
knowingly comic Fieramosca, Robert Lloyd's pompous Balducci - and the
singing of the London Symphony Chorus was exemplary in some truly taxing
numbers. A real occasion, whatever you think of the work itself.
Further performances at the Barbican (0171-638 8891) tomorrow and
Saturday, and a Radio 3 broadcast on Thursday at 7pm
This page was last updated on: July 6, 2003