It is hard to believe: Berlin, where Hector Berlioz had once felt at home and accepted, avoided a performance of his first opera – almost as if there were something improper about it. In 1838, Benvenuto Cellini was premiered in Paris. The subject matter was one that the composer had already addressed in different forms: Both the Symphonie fantastique and Lélio or the Return to Life dealt with “episodes from the life of the artist”, partly as pure instrumental music, guided by the main classical genre, and partly as a hybrid of music and narrative. With Cellini, the subject finally arrived in the arena where it could have the greatest impact in France – the opera. The story of the Renaissance-sculptor Bellini is set during the time of the Carnival, when normal conditions are turned upside-down and masks can reveal just as much as they conceal. By creating the perfect work of art, the artist manages to win both his beloved and absolution from a Carnival-murder.
The opera was first presented in Weimar in 1952 – in an abridged German-language version. In 1894, it was presented in Berlin for the first and only time. There was a concertante performance in 2003 at the Berlin Konzerthaus, formerly Schauspielhaus. Now, the work will be presented in a semi-staged version at the Philharmonie: with costumes, lighting and staging, but without a stage set. Sir John Eliot Gardiner will lead a highly attuned and committed ensemble of soloists, the Monteverdi Choir and the Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique in a performance that will be exclusive to the Musikfest Berlin.