Introducing... the brilliance of Berlioz

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Festival 2016 offers a rare treat in the form of Berlioz’s Béatrice et Bénédict, a compact comic gem, adapted from Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing. The Festival marks the first time Berlioz’s work has been fully staged at Glyndebourne.

The production will feature French mezzo soprano Stéphanie d’Oustrac as Béatrice opposite US tenor Paul Appleby as Bénédict, fresh from their roles in Festival 2015’s Carmen and Saul.

We sat down with director Laurent Pelly and Glyndebourne’s Music Director Robin Ticciati in Glyndebourne’s Old Green Room and asked them to share their thoughts about this exciting new production.

Béatrice et Bénédict will be directed by Laurent Pelly and conducted by Glyndebourne’s Music Director Robin Ticciati

Berlioz comes to Glyndebourne

Robin, an ardent champion of Berlioz, has long been looking forward to conducting one of his operas at Glyndebourne:

‘The music of Berlioz has fascinated me since I was about 13 or 14. Berlioz’s language is, well it’s clichéd to say it’s unlike anyone else’s, but it feels that with his orchestration he goes into a world of utter fantasy and wonderment.
I don’t mean that in a Hollywood way or an effect way. His feelings of orchestration and human emotion are so wild – the music is completely alive, the text is completely alive, it’s got the precision of emotional detail and that’s what I’m so excited about finding and working on with this piece.’

For Laurent Pelly this element of fantasy is key to staging the work:

‘For Béatrice et Bénédict I think you have to create a world. We are not in the real world. The characters are almost like puppets. There isn’t a continuous psychological development of the characters. You have to find a balance between the comedy, the happiness, the fantasy and something very emotional.’

Composing Béatrice et Bénédict

Composed between 1860 and 1862, Béatrice et Bénédict was the first significant operatic version of Shakespeare’s play. Like many of his contemporaries, Berlioz greatly admired Shakespeare, whose works inspired some of his greatest compositions.

Berlioz wrote the libretto himself and streamlined Shakespeare’s play significantly in the process, removing minor characters and darker elements such as Claudio’s accusation of Hero’s infidelity, while preserving and enhancing its sunny exterior. As Laurent points out: ‘[It’s] more of a story inspired by the play, as opposed to an adaptation.’

Berlioz’s opera focuses squarely on the sparring leads. ‘They are two people who ultimately do not want to enter into the social norm of getting married,’ says Laurent. ‘They are almost rebels. They are – we are not sure why – almost against love.’

While composing Béatrice et Bénédict, his last major work, Berlioz was ill and exhausted by the process of getting his operatic epic Les Troyens on stage. He seemed to greatly enjoy composing a short comic opera, writing at one point:

‘I can scarcely keep up with the music of my little opera, so rapidly do the pieces come to me. Each wants precedence, and sometimes I begin a fresh one before the previous one is finished.’

Stéphanie d’Oustrac will star as as Béatrice opposite Paul Appleby as Bénédict

Throwing love up in the air

For Robin Ticciati Glyndebourne is the perfect place to enjoy Béatrice et Bénédict:

‘It’s the celebration of the difficulties, frailties and wonders of love between humans and what that throws up. Every number has a spark of something which is to do with Berlioz’s incredible connection with a literary world and his own imagination. Out comes this ‘coup de champagne’, this fizzing magic, and I think that’s a really interesting place to start – musicologically, scenically, and to create such a fantasy.
It needs a theatre, it needs a troupe, it needs comic timing, it needs wildness. It needs a giddy summer evening where people are ready for fun and to throw love up in the air and see what happens.’

Béatrice et Bénédict is one of two operas based on Shakespeare’s work to be featured at Festival 2016 as part of Shakespeare 400, which marks the 400th anniversary of the Bard’s death. The other is Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

You can find full details on Béatrice et Bénédict and our other Festival 2016 productions in the season overview.

Music in video courtesy of LSO Live