18 Oct 2009

BERLIOZ: Béatrice et Bénédict — Paris 2009

Béatrice et Bénédict: Opéra comique in two acts

Music composed by Hector Berlioz. Libretto by the composer after William Shakespeare’s Much Ado about Nothing.

First Performance: 9 August 1862, Theater der Stadt, Baden-Baden.

Principal Roles:
Héro Soprano
Béatrice Mezzo-Soprano
Bénédict Tenor
Don Pedro Bass
Claudio Baritone
Somarone Bass
Ursule Contralto
Léonato Spoken

Time and Place: Messina, Sicily, 16th Century.


Act I

The townspeople of Messina prepare to celebrate the arrival of Don Pedro, general of the Sicilian army, who is returning from victory in battle. He is to be received, along with some of his officers, at the residence of Leonato, governor of Messina. A messenger brings news that the soldiers are about to arrive and Leonato assures his daughter Hero that Claudio is among them. Beatrice inquires sarcastically about Benedict, so Leonato (her uncle) explains that there is a “merry war” between the two.

Hero is in love with Claudio and is overjoyed at his return while Beatrice and Benedict resume their disdainful sparring.

Benedict, who had assumed Claudio was a confirmed bachelor like himself, cannot believe that now he admits to being in love with Hero and plans to marry her. Don Pedro and Claudio tease Benedict by suggesting that he, too, should consider marriage. He ridicules the notion of wedded bliss, saying that if he is ever so weak as to succumb, they should put a sign on his house: “Here you may see Benedict, the married man.”

Don Pedro decides that he will contrive a way to turn the war between Beatrice and Benedict into a love match.

Somarone rehearses the nuptial song he has written for the bridal couple, prompting Benedict into an outburst of regret that Claudio has joined the company of lovers. He hides from Don Pedro and Claudio but they spot him, giving them the chance to have him overhear a conversation with Leonato in which they talk about Beatrice being fiercely in love with Benedict. These words, said in apparent sincerity, work their magic: Benedict declares to himself that he will requite Beatrice’s love.

Claudio,_deceived_by_Don_John,_accuses_Hero_stone.pngClaudio, deceived by Don John, accuses Hero (Much Ado about Nothing), by Marcus Stone, 1861

Hero and Ursula, her lady in waiting, have played the same trick on Beatrice that the men played on Benedict. It is a beautiful night for Hero to reflect on her feelings of love.

Act II

The wedding festivities are in full swing, and Somarone improvises a song in honor of Sicilian wines. All are enjoying themselves except Beatrice, who is in a state of agitation; the trick has worked. She remembers that after Benedict left for battle she had nightmares about him coming to harm. She admits to herself that she loves him.

Hero and Ursula join Beatrice and all three share Hero’s joy on her wedding morning.

Benedict finds Beatrice and makes his feelings known to her, but she is unable to cope and the wedding celebration interrupts them. Claudio and Hero reveal love poems that Beatrice and Benedict have written about each other, so they both admit their love and agree to a truce—until tomorrow.

[Synopsis Source: Houston Grand Opera]

Click here for the complete libretto.