Berlioz: Benvenuto Cellini

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LABELS: Virgin
WORKS: Benvenuto Cellini
PERFORMER: Gregory Kunde, Patrizia Ciofi, Joyce Di Donato, Jean-François Lapointe, Laurent Naouri; Radio France Chorus, French National Orchestra/John Nelson
CATALOGUE NO: 545 7062
Benvenuto Cellini is as full of crazily arresting ideas as anything Berlioz ever wrote. In giving us the work as it went into rehearsal at the Paris Opéra in March 1838, together with a few additions from the rehearsal period itself, John Nelson rescues some fine music, including Balducci’s aria ‘Ne regardez jamais la lune’ and Teresa’s original romance ‘Ah! que l’amour’. Also a number of passages known to us as spoken dialogue are restored to the sung form that Opéra protocol demanded. As Hugh Macdonald says in his booklet note, we can never be sure why changes were made. But it’s fun to guess. In the original score the brouhaha at the end of the first tableau was immediately followed by the attempted drinking song (‘À boire!’); the insertion between them of Cellini’s ‘La gloire était ma seule idole’, provided here as an appendix, was surely dictated by dramatic good sense. As for the Pope’s admission that he knows perfectly well Cellini is a boozy, murderous lecher, but that art is paramount, might ecclesiastical sensibilities have come into play here? Nelson and his forces offer a vigorous performance with mostly excellent French, and if they don’t quite match Colin Davis’s superlative 1972 recording, there’s no shame in that. Nicolai Gedda was wholly at home with the French language, which can’t quite be said of Gregory Kunde. As Teresa, Patricia Ciofi runs Christiane Eda-Pierre very close, but I was worried at times by the size of her vibrato. Ultimately, Davis generates just those extra few volts that make the difference. Roger Nichols