In three acts by HECTOR BERLIOZ.
Text by de WAILLY and BARRIER, translated into German by PETER
This opera by the spirited French musician has had a singular fate.
Composed more than forty years ago it never had the success it merited
in France; a "succes d'estime" was the only result. Liszt, who was the
saviour of many a talented struggler was the first to recogniz
genius of the French composer. He brought the opera out upon the stage
at Weimar, but without much success. Berlioz was not understood by the
public. Devrient in Carlsruhe tried a similar experiment and failed,
and so the opera was almost forgotten, until Germany, remembering the
duty owed to genius of whatever nationality it may be, placed it upon
the stage in Dresden, on the 4th of Nov. 1888 under the leadership of
one of the ablest of modern interpreters of music, Director
Schuch.--Its representation was a triumph. Though Berlioz can in
nowise be compared with Wagner, whose music is much more realistic and
sensuous Wagner may nevertheless be said to have opened a path for
Berlioz' style, which, though melodious differs widely from that of the
easy flowing Italian school, being more serious as well as more
difficult for the musical novice to understand. This explains, why
Berlioz' compatriots esteemed, but never liked him; he was too
scientific. To-day our ears and understanding are better prepared for
striking intervals and complicated orchestration, which latter is the
most brilliant feature in the opera.
Indeed the instrumentation is simply perfect, the choruses are
master-pieces of originality, life and melody, and the rythm with its
syncopes, is so remarkable, that one is more than justified in calling
the style unique; it is Berlioz and no other.
The text is far less good than the music, though the hero, whose life
Goethe found worthy of description in the 24th and 25th volume of his
works, might well interest.--The libretto is by no means strictly
historical, and suffers from improbabilities, which can only be excused
in an opera.
The tale is laid in Rome in the year 1532 under Pope Clement VII, and
comprises the events of three days, Monday before Shrove-tide,
Shrove-Tuesday and Ash-Wednesday.--Benvenuto Cellini, the Tuscan
goldsmith has been called to Rome by the Pope, in order to embellish
the city with his masterpieces. He loves Teresa, the daughter of
the old papal treasurer Balducci, and the love is mutual.--At the same
time another suitor, Fieramosca, the Pope's sculptor, is favored by her
father. Old Balducci grumbles in the first scene at the Pope's
predilection for Cellini, declaring that such an excellent sculptor as
Fieramosca ought to suffice. He goes for a walk and Cellini finds
Teresa alone. To save her from Fieramosca he plans an elopement,
selecting the close of the Carnival as the time best suited for
carrying out their design. The rendez-vous is to be the Piazza di
Colonna, where he will wait for her, disguised as a monk in white,
accompanied by a Capuchin, his pupil Ascanio.--Unhappily the rival
Fieramosca has entered unseen, and overheard all. The ensuing terzetto
is a masterpiece. While the lovers are bidding each-other farewell
Balducci returns; and Cellini has scarcely time to hide behind the
window-curtain before he enters. The father is surprised to find his
daughter still up and Teresa, seeking for an excuse to send him away,
feigns to be frightened by a thief in her chamber. There Balducci
finds the hapless Fieramosca hidden and Cellini meanwhile escapes.
Balducci and his daughter calling for help, all the female servants and
women of the neighborhood appear armed with brooms and wooden spoons.
They fall upon the hapless lover and finally force him to escape
through the window.
In the second act we find Cellini in a tavern with his pupils and
friends. They have no money left to pay for their wine, when
Ascanio brings gold from the Pope, which however he only delivers after
Cellini has given a solemn promise to finish at once the statue of
Perseus he is engaged upon. Great is the general wrath, when they find
the money consist of but a paltry sum, and they resolve to avenge
themselves on the avaricious treasurer Balducci, by personating him in
the theatre. Fieramosca, who has again been eaves-dropping turns for
help to his friend Pompeo, a bravo.--And they decide to outwit Cellini,
by adopting the same costumes as he and his pupil.
The scene changes; we see the Piazza di Colonna and the theatre, in
which the pantomime of King Midas is acted. Balducci who is there with
his daughter among the spectators recognizes in the snoring King a
portrait of himself and furiously advances to grapple with him.
Cellini profits by the ensuing tumult to approach Teresa, but at the
same time Fieramosca comes up with Pompeo, and Teresa cannot discern
which is the true lover, owing to the masks.--A fight ensues, in which
Cellini stabs Pompeo. He is arrested and Teresa flies with the
Capuchin Ascanio to Cellini's atelier. The enraged people are about to
lynch the murderer, when three cannon shots are fired announcing that
it is Ash-Wednesday; the lights are extinguished and Cellini escapes in
The third act represents Cellini's atelier with the workmen in it.
Teresa, not finding her lover is in great distress. Ascanio consoles
her, and when the Miserere of the Penitents is heard, both join in
the prayer to the Holy Virgin.
Suddenly Cellini rushes in, and embracing Teresa, relates that he fled
the night before into a house. A procession of penitent monks passing
by in the morning, he joined them, as their white cowls were similar to
his own disguise. He decides to escape at once to Florence with
Teresa, but is already pursued by Balducci, who appears with Fieramosca
and insists on his daughter's returning and marrying the latter. At
this moment the Cardinal Salviati steps in to look for the statue. He
is highly indignant, that Cellini, thoughtless like all artists, has
not kept his promise. Hearing him moreover accused by Balducci, he
threatens severe punishment and finally declares that Perseus shall be
cast by another.--Cellini in the pride of genius and full of rage
seizes a hammer, and, surrounded by his workmen declares, that he will
rather destroy his work than see it finished by another.
The Cardinal, overcome by fear of the loss, changes his tactics, and in
compliance with Cellini's request promises him full pardon and Teresa's
hand, if he finishes Perseus in an hour's time, as Cellini offers to
do.--Should he fail in his gigantic task, his life will be forfeit.
All set to work at once; even Fieramosca at the Cardinal's request
assists. More and more metal is demanded; Cellini sacrifices all his
masterpieces in gold and silver. At last the casting is completed,
Cellini breaks the mould and the statue of Perseus shines
faultlessly forth, a wonder of art, a thing of glory bringing
immortality to its maker. All present bend before the greatness of
genius and Fieramosca, the rival in art and love is the first to kiss
and embrace Cellini, who obtains full pardon and the hand of Teresa
along with her father's blessing.