It was a starry audience attending the first night of Benvenuto Cellini, primarily – of course – because Terry Gilliam is at the helm of this mad, action-packed production. I loved his Damnation of Faust; it was hard-hitting and powerful and I’m sure London was anxious to see if he could top it.
Apparently there were technical problems with Cellini right up until the dress rehearsal and rumours are it came in way over-budget. Given the number of fire-eaters, acrobats, jugglers, ballet dancers, stilt walkers, commedia dell’ arte figures and inflatable carnival heads floating right up to the dress circle, all producing gasps from the audience, I’m not surprised.
Benvenuto Cellini, the great Florentine sculptor, is racing against time to deliver the ultimate statue of Perseus to the Pope while trying to woe his beloved, rid himself of rival suitors and keep himself financially afloat and his workers well-stocked in wine. The sets are ever-changing, incredible and mind-boggling, as 3D backdrops twist and turn, drawing us into a dark and compelling world.
The music is beautiful, if a little disjointed, but it really delivers within its context and the singing is absolutely sublime. The main roles are exhausting for both tenor and soprano and I was in complete awe at the beauty, stamina and artistry of Michael Spyres as Cellini and Corinne Winters singing Teresa. Both excelled in line, colour, diction and timbre. You just won’t hear better singing.
Another highlight of the opera is the phenomenal Willard White descending from on high as Pope Clement VII, encased in a Sun God shell flanked by Swiss Guards who exit with a hop and a skip. A special mention must go to the mezzo Paula Murrihy who really packs a punch as Cellini’s assistant Ascanio. Edward Gardner does an impressive job holding this musical madness together.
There is so much going on, it makes this so much more than an opera. It’s more Steam Punk meets Renaissance Retro within the Wizard of Oz, and there are some hilarious nods to Monty Python which had he audience chuckling. This piece is, in two words, completely mad – but delightfully so.
Benvenuto Cellini is the ultimate in camp spectacle and is absolutely unmissable.
Benvenuto Cellini is on until 27 June at the ENO