Benvenuto Cellini: Mikhail Vekua
Teresa: Anastasia Kalagina
Ascanio: Irina Shishkova
Fieramosca: Yaroslav Petryanik
Giacomo Balducci: Oleg Sychov
Pope Clement VII: Stanislav Trofimov
World premiere: 10 September 1838, Académie Royale de Musique (Salle Le Peletier), Paris
Premiere at the Mariinsky Theatre: 6 July 2007
Premiere of this production: 10 November 2021
Running time 3 hours 25 minutes
The performance has one interval
Music by Hector Berlioz
Libretto by Léon de Wailly and Auguste Barbier, after Cellini´s Memoirs
Musical Director: Valery Gergiev
Stage Director: Alexei Frandetti
Set Designer: Vyacheslav Okunev
Costume Designer: Viktoria Sevryukova
Choreographer: Irina Kashuba
Lighting Designer and Multimedia Director: Gleb Filshtinsky
Musical Preparation: Natalia Mordashova
Chorus Masters: Konstantin Rylov, Pavel Teplov
French language Coach: Ksenia Klimenko
Synopsis The synopsis corresponds with the stage director’s version of the opera.
The action unfolds in Rome in the 1960s.
The renowned film director Benvenuto Cellini arrives at the Cinecittà film studio. The studio’s producer, Clemente Medici, has commissioned him to make a film about Perseus. But here is the problem: the director is experiencing an artistic crisis and cannot fathom what this work should look like. During a press conference dealing with the new film project Cellini meets Teresa, the daughter of the Balducci studio. Another director, Fieramosca, notes Teresa and Cellini’s mutual regard for one another. He draws Balducci’s attention to this, and the latter, incensed, drives out the studio workers.
Balducci is out of sorts: he is unhappy that the producer has invited Benvenuto Cellini from Florence to Rome and commissioned the blockbuster Perseus from him. In Balducci’s opinion, there is a better artiste in Rome – Fieramosca. He wants him to marry his daughter. But Teresa pays no heed to her elderly father’s grumbling. The angry Balducci departs. From afar mirthful singing can be heard: it is Cellini singing with his friends. Teresa receives a note from Benvenuto who is in love with her.
The writer of the note appears. His works are filled with passion and tenderness as he directs them to Teresa. Eagerly consumed with plans for an impending elopement, the lovers do not notice Fieramosca who has been eavesdropping on their conversation. Unexpectedly Balducci returns. The cunning Benvenuto manages to slip away unobserved, while the old man espies Fieramosca. Balducci is beside himself with resentment: behind his back, this slacker has succeeded in arranging a date with Teresa. Furious, the director convenes all the women at the studio.
In the film studio’s canteen the staff have assembled: designers, cameramen, lighting technicians and actors. They wish to celebrate Cellini’s new opus, but Benvenuto’s wallet is empty and the head of the canteen refuses to open a tab for him to obtain any wine. Cellini’s friend and pupil the young Ascanio comes to his rescue. He produces money he has received from Clemente. But there is a problem: the studio’s director Balducci has provided more than a modest sum. The angry designers resolve today to have their revenge on the curmudgeonly Balducci. During filming, Cellini with Ascanio’s assistance will abduct Teresa from the old man. As was previously planned, the friends will dress in monks’ costumes: Benvenuto a white cassock and Ascanio a brown one. This plan is overheard by Fieramosca. As soon as Cellini and his team leave the canteen, he hastens to come to an agreement with his friend, the drunkard and rough-neck Pompeo, on how to ruin the Florentine master’s idea. Fieramosca and Pompeo will dress in exactly the same costumes as Benvenuto and Ascanio, and together they will abduct Teresa.
A film set. All of the film studio’s staff have gathered to observe how the guest director will start work on his film. Work starts with a party. Concealed under masks, Cellini’s friends make fun of Balducci. The actors engage in a performance in which they parody Fieramosca, Balducci and Clemente. Beside himself in anger, the studio’s director swears revenge on those who have mocked him. Absorbed with the quarrel, he does not notice that the crown has driven away his daughter. Benvenuto and Ascanio hasten to her. At the same time she is approached by Fieramosca and Pompeo; they are wearing similar masks and costumes. An argument erupts, and it becomes a bitter fight. Benvenuto accidentally kills Pompeo. The police arrest the culprit, but he wrestles free and makes his escape in the general confusion. The police set off after him, and in error Balducci grabs Fieramosca.
In Cellini’s workshop, Teresa and Ascanio await Benvenuto’s return. Cellini appears, having succeeded in eluding his pursuers. He narrates how he managed to escape. Suddenly Balducci enters. He showers his disobedient daughter with reproaches and declares his determination as her father: she is to be married today to Fieramosca, who has shown his innocence in Pompeo’s murder and has been released. The trouble that has emerged between Balducci and Cellini is interrupted by Clemente. He has arrived to learn how work on the film is progressing. On hearing that Cellini has not even started work, the producer is rendered furious. But who, other than the great Cellini, can create Perseus? The director’s every sin will be forbidden if he starts work on filming right away. Cellini demands Teresa’s hand for a reward. Clemente also agrees to this. All of those present accompany the producer, leaving only Ascanio in the workshop. He is worried, because stopping work on Perseus might also affect him. To deal with his fears, the young man prepares the film set and sings a merry song. Cellini returns. As before, he does not know how to start work. His only wish is to run away from here and go as far as possible. At the same time, the patience of the studio staff is running out: they demand to be paid and refuse to work with Cellini. Even Teresa’s entreaties do not help. Suddenly Fieramosca appears. He attempts to “poach” his competitor’s team, but is given a stern refusal. Cellini forces Fieramosca to work on Perseus. Feverishly, the director starts working. At last the work is finished – and this beautiful work of art is presented to the admiring audience. Alexey Frandetti
Just like at a vibrant Italian carnival, Berlioz’ Benvenuto Cellini is a combination of the comic and the tragic, deep emotions and frivolity, ironic play-acting and stark spiritual nakedness. The operatic “first-born” of the great French Romantic composer is of a rare breed: it is an opera semiseria, meaning a “semi-serious” opera. Its core idea is actually totally serious: it deals with genius and the creative process, with the artist’s place in society and with the value of a work of art. In the character of the illustrious Florentine sculptor Cellini, Berlioz saw his alter ego – a genius who, so to speak, lives life on the edge, but for whom that is indeed the only way to create masterpieces. At a certain moment, matters take a truly serious turn: a murder is committed on the stage, and then the protagonist himself is within a hairbreadth of death. Berlioz, however, is no moralist: here the serious sits cheek by jowl with the comic, the lyrical heroes with the buffo characters and real people with maskers. Here there are well-developed arias of the reflexive characters, there are tremendous ensembles that are Mozartian in spirit and there are magnificent choral scenes, among them the grandiose finale of Act I of which Franz Liszt commented that it had been composed of “fiery, passionate notes”. Benvenuto Cellini is also a celebration for and of the orchestra; Berlioz, with his desire of linking the genres of opera and symphony music, composed an utterly dazzling score, filled with glorious timbre innovations. The length of the opera appeared to Liszt, who had staged it in Weimar, to be surplus to requirements, and large sections ended up being cut. The Mariinsky Theatre’s new production is based on the full and complete Paris version.
Benvenuto Cellini, with its mass street scenes, drinking-bout in a tavern, “balagan” theatre, a Roman Catholic priest as a deus ex machina and other efficacious situations, presents an alluring sphere of activity for any director of opera. Moscow stage director Alexey Frandetti could see parallels between the story of the creation of the legendary statue of Perseus and the story of the filming of Federico Fellini’s cult film 8½. The director has transferred the plot of the opera to 1963, to a film studio in Rome where, as is well known, the greatest cinematic masterpiece of the 20th century experienced a difficulty-laden birth. Crises and insights, the succession of procrastination and feverish activity, financial “swings” and relying on a client will accompany artistic creativity in any and every period. Khristina Batyushina
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