Opinions about Sir Colin Davis have always varied widely between adulations and castigation. But I will always be thankful to him for three things, the conductor's aggressive championing of Sir Michael Tippet, his brilliant Sibelius cycle, and the fact that Davis almost single-handedly resurrected the reputation of Hector Berlioz in the 20th century. Berlioz is going through a positive Renaissance. The Met unveiled a new production of Les Troyens this year and is scheduled for Benvenuto Cellini next year. But for what ever reason, the composer's last opera has never gained a foothold in the repertoire. It's a shame, since buoyant work is every bit the equal of the massive Les Troyens, and at a little over two hours, it's a wonderful evening's romp.
Beatrice and Benedict takes its story from portions of Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing. Jettisoning the Hero and Claudio plot, and anything else to darken the mood, the work is about as joyful as you could expect from Berlioz. From the almost Mendelsohnian overture to the luminous nocture at the end of the first act, to the final chorus, this is a work to treasure. It shows the composer off to his best advantage. The orchestration is bright and brilliant, and the vocal lines are ecstatic.
Davis' performance is terrific. This LSO live recording is every bit the equal of Davis' seminal recording in the 60s. The singers, though not first tier in most opera houses, are uniformly excellent. Particularly stunning is the end of the first act duet, the Nocturne. It is a true slice of Berliozian heaven.
If you have ever been interested in this marvelous composer's operatic work, Beatrice and Benedict is the best place to start. It is a total delight.