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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A charming jeu d'esprit in homage to the Bard, 2 Mar 2012
Ralph Moore "Ralph operaphile" (Bishop's Stortford, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Beatrice Et Benedict (Audio CD)
Berlioz' lifelong fascination with Shakespeare finds its most charming and insouciant expression in this, his reduction of "Much Ado About Nothing" to the bare bones, avoiding any quasi-tragic shadow by excising the Claudio-Hero sub-plot engineered by Don John, substituting the pedantic, drunken music-master Somarone for Dogberry to provide the broader comic focus and providing his own dialogue very loosely based on Shakespeare's text. It is thus now little more than a light comedy of manners but constantly enlivened by Berlioz' mercurial music. No libretto is provided (although one in French can be downloaded) and as this is the only issue to include it in full, elegantly spoken by French actors quite well-matched to the respective singers, that seems rather unhelpful. As a French speaker, I enjoy listening to it and certainly think Berlioz' ear was rather good but I imagine anyone who doesn't understand French being rather miffed by the long stretches of dialogue.

Vocally and instrumentally, this is a superb performance: light and fleet in truly Gallic style. However, the singers here do not necessarily erase memories of predecessors, least of all Janet Baker's Beatrice for Colin Davis in 1977. A young Susan Graham has a meltingly lovely mezzo but is theatrically rather inert alongside Baker's knowing inflection of text and whereas Robert Tear certainly has a less beautiful voice than tenor Jean-Luc Viala (who sounds very like American tenor John Aler who also specialises in French roles) he does more in the acting vein. The vocal stand-out here is Sylvia McNair's Héro - which is just as well, as she has some of the best music in this opera/operetta. She has a simply gorgeous sound, warm yet silvery; she is more certain of pitch and alluring of tone than Davis' Christiane Eda-Pierre. Nonetheless, I was slightly disappointed by conductor John Nelson's treatment of the famous Nocturne which he takes rather fast, missing the dreamy suspensions of Davis' account.

I also enjoy aspects of Barenboim's version with Domingo, Yvonne Minton and Ileana Cotrubas, and although it is less idiomatic than Davis or Nelson, Cotrubas' plangent Héro is a delight.

None of those three sets I own is perfect; all have their charms and I am happy to listen to all three, although despite my antipathy to Tear's throaty tenor, I would be most reluctant to part with Colin Davis' 1977 recording. This set, meanwhile, has much to recommend it.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Great Bubbly Romp, 4 May 2003
If the ideas of French Opera or Berlioz scared you off before, listen to this opera, especially this recording. It is bubbly and always refreshing. There is little in the way of drag or ponderous musing in the conducting of Nelson - he makes it a true romantic comedy. His cast is also excellent. This recording places the opera, for me, in the realm of such excellent revelry pieces as Die Zauberflote and The Merry Wives of Windsor. Highly recommended.
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Beatrice Et Benedict
Beatrice Et Benedict by Hector Berlioz (Audio CD - 2011)
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