In a production by Opera Boston, Berlioz’s last opera, Béatrice et Bénédict, based on Shakespeare’s comedy Much Ado About Nothing, will have a three-performance run at the Cutler Majestic beginning on October 21st. Set by the noted Metropolitan Opera stage director, David Kneuss, in the frothy 1950s, the production features noted singers, mezzo-soprano Julie Boulianne and tenor Sean Panikkar in the title roles. It will be sung in French with English titles under the baton of Opera Boston’s Artistic Director, Gil Rose. BMInt spoke briefly with him:
BMInt: Most of us don’t know Béatrice et Bénédict. Please tell us which Berlioz was responsible — the composer of the Requiem and the Damnation of Faust or the composer of L’Enfance du Christ. In other words, is this sweetly lyrical or boldly dramatic?
Gil Rose: This work shows Berlioz at his most light and lyrical. As a late work with the spirit of youth, it is akin to Verdi’s Falstaff.
Berlioz began writing Béatrice et Bénédict four years after his former wife, the English Shakespearean actress Harriet Smithson, died. This was his only opera on a text of the Bard. Did Smithson’s death somehow revive his interest in Shakespeare or is this a coincidence?
I think it must have been, but Romantic composers always have held the Bard in the highest regard and often turned to him for inspiration.
The set and costume design looks 1930s-ish. Please tell me more.
It’s actually 1950s Sicily. The design reflects the carefree and lighter than air nature of the music and the narrative.
What’s the Boston performance history of the piece?
The BSO performed the piece (semi-staged) at Symphony Hall and at Tanglewood in 1978, with Seiji Ozawa conducting and our stage director David Kneuss directing. The Boston Lyric Opera staged it in the 1992-93 season, with Lorraine Hunt as Béatrice, Jon Garrison as Bénédict, and Robert Spano conducting.
Why are you offering Berlioz now for Opera Boston audiences?
As Opera Boston is always looking to present the full stylistic range of the operatic art form, it was time for an early romantic comic work. We also wanted to open the season with a comedy.
Have you ever considered a staged Damnation of Faust?
We would love to BUT we’re hampered by the friendly confines of the Cutler Majestic. Béatrice et Bénédict is as big a Berlioz as we can manage for now.
Remind us of the connection between the Boston Modern Orchestra Project and Opera Boston.
Me. Other than that they are two completely separate entities who have collaborated in the past.
Who are the orchestra principals whose names are familiar?
Boston’s finest. Our section chairs are Sarah Brady, flute; Jennifer Slowik, oboe; Jan Halloran, clarinet; Margaret Phillips, bassoon; Ken Pope, french horn; Mary Lynne Bohn, trumpet; Dana Oakes, cornet; Gregory Spiridopoulos, trombone; Craig McNutt, timpani; and Robert Schulz, percussion. Charles Dimmick is the concertmaster and Heidi Braun-Hill chairs the second violins; Kate Vincent chairs the violas; David Russell, cellos; and Anthony D’Amico, double basses.
Additional instrumental players get in costume and become part of the onstage action. Banda players you’ll see include: Benjamin Fox and Joseph Halko, oboe; Adrian Jojatu and Sebastian Chavez, bassoon; Richard Watson, Geoffrey Shamu, and Gregory Gettel, trumpet; Nicholas Tolle, percussion; and Maarten Strager, guitar.
Please point BMInt’s readers to some capsule biographies of the principal singers and more information on the production staff?
If readers want to learn more about the opera and the production, or if they wish to buy tickets, can you point them to the right place?