A merry war
Hector Berlioz: Béatrice et Bénédict
Enkelejda Shkosa (Beatrice), Kenneth Tarver (Benedick), Susan Gritton
(Hero), Sara Mingardo (Ursula), Laurent Naouri (Claudio), David
Wilson-Johnson (Somarone), Dean Robinson (Don Pedro)
London Symphony Orchestra, London Symphony Chorus, Colin Davis (conductor)
Béatrice et Bénédict, the least of Berlioz'
operas, doesn't quite support the weight of the luxury cast and orchestral
and choral forces that gave tonight's concert performance. Benvenuto
Cellini demands bravura and excess of all kinds, and Les
Troyens, to be performed by Davis and the LSO in December, needs
massive forces to reflect the relentlessness of tragic fate.
Béatrice is a slight comedy of lovers admitting that they are
in love in spite of themselves, lacking both the darker aspects of
Shakespeare's play and the wit. (It is in fact close to being the type of
nineteenth-century French opera up with which your correspondant will not
put, all expressive numbers for the singers and stage spectacle.) Only the
romantic scene-painting really stands on its own, and it's not really
The main romantic voice is that of Hero, the happily-in-love young woman
whose wedding brings on Beatrice and Benedick's. Susan Gritton gave a
wide-eyed and superbly sung performance of her aria, with a sweetly
not-quite-parodic cadenza. Her duet with Sara Mingardo as Ursula in the
night music at the end of the first act was outstandingly beautiful, and
well worth the luxury of casting Mingardo in such a small role. Laurent
Naouri as Claudio, in contrast, really had nothing to do.
The main lovers were not quite sparkling. Kenneth Tarver was Fenton in the
Royal Opera Falstaff, and is probably still more of a Fenton. He
singing as Benedick was musical but he didn't find the humour. Enkeledja
Shkosa as Beatrice acted like a big star but similarly didn't have much
David Wilson-Johnson as the comic relief Somarone had more character than
all the rest of the singers put together.
This version used adapted passages from Shakespeare's text, performed by
actors, to provide a skeleton of the narrative. The selections seemed to be
chosen mainly for being famous, and it didn't really work -- the parody
epithalamium, the night-music and the carouse that opens the second act all
came and went without explanation. Having actors peform the original play
also reminded us of the wit and edge missing from Berlioz' version.
This performance was recorded, and will be available on CD at a later date.
One day soon they'll be selling them as you leave the hall.