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Hector Berlioz: Benvenuto Cellini [Salzburg Festspiele] Blu-ray Review

  • Aspect Ratio: 1.77:1
  • Video Codec: AVC/MPEG-4
  • Resolution: 1080i/60
  • Audio Codec: PCM 2.0, DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
  • Subtitles: English, French, German, English, Spanish
  • Region: ABC (Region-Free)
  • Rating: Not Rated
  • Discs: 1
  • Studio: Naxos
  • Blu-ray Release Date: April 26, 2011
  • List Price: $45.98

[amazon-product region=”uk” tracking_id=”bluraydefinit-21″]B004P4I4SW[/amazon-product]

[amazon-product]B004P4I4SW[/amazon-product]

Purchase Benvenuto Cellini on Blu-ray at CD Universe

Shop for more Blu-ray titles at Amazon.com

Overall
[Rating:4/5]
The Performance
[Rating:4/5]
Video Quality
[Rating:4.5/5]
Audio Quality
[Rating:4.5/5]
Supplemental Materials
[Rating:0/5]

Click thumbnails for high-resolution 1920X1080p screen captures

(Screen captures are lightly compressed with lossy JPEG  thus are meant as a general representation of the content and do not fully reveal the capabilities of the Blu-ray format)

The Performance

[Rating:4/5]

The mid-19th century saw the early major dramatic operas from the pens of Italian, Giuseppe Verdi, and  German, Richard Wagner. Their spiritual and artistic god-father, however, was Frenchman Hector Berlioz who composed one of the grandest operas of all time, Les Troyens, which runs more than five hours. Before Berlioz found his mature style, his first opera was a much lower profile and  largely comic piece, Benvenuto Cellini, taking its subject from the famed Renaissance Florentine goldsmith and sculptor. This opera features florid singing and ambitious orchestration, with echoes of the prevailing bel canto style and hints of Berlioz’s own grand operatic voice. Except for its overture, Benvenuto Cellini is rarely performed today which makes this 2007 Salzburg Festival video even more anticipated.

Noted Russian maestro, Valery Gergiev, not usually associated with the French repertoire, elicits a spirited performance from the Wiener Philharmoniker. Music TV video director, Philipp Stölzl, has conceived a 21st century Fritz Lang “Metropolis“setting replete with, flashing signs, robots and helicopters that goes well counter to the opera’s original era. But an opera like Cellini lives or dies on the basis of its singers and, I am happy to report, the returns are mostly quite good. Soprano Maija Kovalevska is a stunning vocally and visually opera babe in the Eastern European tradition of Anna Netrebko and Elina Garanca. Baritone Laurent Naouri,  mezzo soprano Kate Aldrich, and basses Mikhail Petrenko and Brindley Sherratt, all handle their roles well in the true Berliozian spirit. The main disappointment is the title role sung by German tenor Burkhard Fritz who filled in for the reluctant Neil Schicoff. He gets through the part with little panache or the vocal pyrotechnics that it requires. The large supporting cast is outstanding with colorful supers in their fantastical garbs reminding viewers that this is the season of Carnival.

It is Mardi Gras in Rome and Cellini, at work on a papal commission,a bronze statue of Perseus holding the head of Medusa, is in love with Theresa, daughter of Balducci, the Pope’s treasurer. His rival Fieramosca and Balducci’s personal choice vies for Theresa’s affections. During the course of the opera, Cellini accidentally kills one of Fieramosca’s cronies, is arrested and condemned to death. When his metalworkers throw all of the previous sculptures into the mold and achieve a successful cast, the Pope pardons Cellini, and, with Balducci’s reluctant blessing, he and Theresa are united as the opera comes to a happy conclusion.

Video Quality

[Rating:4.5/5]

The darkish backdrops come ablaze with colorful sets, props, and costumes. Videography by Andreas Morell successfully alternates the grand sweep of the very busy stage with timely close ups of the singers. Special effects abound, including Cellini arriving by helicopter and the Pope in his own flying limousine. Costumier Kathi Maurer’s wardrobes range from handsome to just plain garish, but all get your attention. Kudos are in place for lighting director extraordinaire, Duane Schuler who makes it all come together in an effective video ensemble. Overall, the images are crisp and the colors well reproduced.

Audio Quality

[Rating:4.5/5]

Salzburg’s large festival hall is a very friendly venue for live performance. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack conveys a typical proscenium presentation of a staged work, appropriate for an operatic performance. There is a minimum of ambience effects or stage noises. Orchestral nuances are well reproduced and the balance between the pit and the stage is exemplary. The soloists are well recorded with some forward emphasis that might not be heard from a good audience seat.

Supplemental Materials

[Rating:0/5]

There are no supplemental materials.

The Definitive Word

Overall:

[Rating:4/5]

This is not only the sole BD version of Benvenuto Cellini but the only video version readily available. It is not likely that another Cellini will be in the works any time soon, so if you want this piece which contains some excellent and unjustly neglected Berlioz writing, this is your option. Traditionalists may have to close their eyes periodically if the over-the-top sets and costumes are too distracting. I was able to deal with this aspect as the musical values were consistently high and the overall performance was as good as will likely be heard on today’s stages.  The entertainment factor is very high and, unlike some of the recent drab minimalism in opera staging, this is maximalism to the nth degree. In spite of some of the reservations previously stated, I had fun watching this show, and isn’t that what’s it all about? Opera newbies, just go for it.

Additional Screen Captures

[amazon-product region=”uk” tracking_id=”bluraydefinit-21″]B004P4I4SW[/amazon-product]

[amazon-product]B004P4I4SW[/amazon-product]

Purchase Benvenuto Cellini on Blu-ray at CD Universe

Shop for more Blu-ray titles at Amazon.com

Overall
[Rating:4/5]
The Performance
[Rating:4/5]
Video Quality
[Rating:4.5/5]
Audio Quality
[Rating:4.5/5]
Supplemental Materials
[Rating:0/5]

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