“Malvenuto Cellini”? How astonishing that the public dismissed Berlioz’s early opera Benvenuto Cellini with that contemptuous epithet. Luscious arias for the female roles, astonishing rhythmic innovations, a dramatic score that transcends a libretto that itself was the only reason the opera was ever written—Benvenuto Cellini has it all. How could Berlioz’s contemporaries not respond to this delightful work? In fact, the sorry reception of Benvenuto Cellini established a pattern that echoed throughout the unhappy career of this man who—as he wrote in his bitterly funny Mémoires—“had the imprudence to be born in a not very musical nation at a not very musical time.”

Berlioz recounts the origins of Benvenuto Cellini in his splendid Mémoires. He was thirty-one and earning his living as a musical journalist when he came across the...

 
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