Benvenuto Cellini

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 darkness.

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.