Benvenuto Cellini – overture

Berlioz’s third opera is set during the last days of the carnival in Rome in 1532, with the famous goldsmith and sculptor Benvenuto Cellini as its protagonist. Premi?red at the Paris Opera in 1838, the work (classified as ‘semi-seria’, that is, half tragic and half comic) was one of the composer’s worst failures. The only part of the opera that pleased the audience at an otherwise scandalous first performance was the overture that had appeared in print in 1839 and remains popular as an independent concert piece to this day. The overture is only in part based on the music of the opera. The slow section following a tempestuous start features two excerpts from the opera: the music of an aria, introduced in pizzicato by the deep strings, and another melody played by the flutes and oboes (Harlequin’s arietta). The sombre-toned aria subsequently returns at the climax of the overture in prolonged notes played by trombones, and immediately before the end, by the unaccompanied celli.