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Capable and entertaining

'Benvenuto Cellini' in Strasbourg,
reviewed by ROBERT HUGILL


Berlioz's opera Benvenuto Cellini is an enormous undertaking for any opera company; the director of Opéra National du Rhin's new production, Renaud Doucet, describes mounting the opera as being like doing Carmen three times over. So it is greatly to the credit of Opéra National du Rhin that they have completed their impressive series of Berlioz works with a new production of Benvenuto Cellini, directed by Doucet and designed by André Barbe. This opera remains rather undervalued in France and it is perhaps no surprise that the Intendant of Opéra National du Rhin is our own Nicholas Snowman.

We saw the final performance of the opera in Strasbourg's delightful 19th century opera house on Sunday 29 January 2006, prior to the production moving to Mulhouse. One of the reasons for travelling to Strasbourg to see the opera, besides Benvenuto Cellini's sheer rarity, was the fact that Opéra National du Rhin was mounting it with substantially Francophone case. The only non-native French speaker in the cast was tenor Paul Charles Clarke playing the title role.

A scene from the Opéra national du Rhin production of 'Benvenuto Cellini'. Photo © 2006 Alain Kaiser
A scene from the Opéra national du Rhin production of 'Benvenuto Cellini'. Photo © 2006 Alain Kaiser

In the programme book Doucet and Barbe (who seem to function as a team) describe how they came up with around five different ways of staging the opera, starting with an extremely contemporary version. When Berlioz was writing the opera, the common form of serious opera in Paris was the historical epic; so, though it has substantial comic elements, Benvenuto Cellini takes much of its theatrical form from this sort of spectacular theatrical experience. Unfortunately we have lost the art of producing this sort of grand opéra; audiences and directors alike are often uncomfortable with Renaissance epics, all men in tights, big frocks and painted scenery.

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Copyright © 2 February 2006 Robert Hugill, London UK


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