Benvenuto Cellini in Rome
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Berlioz’s opera Benvenuto Cellini is set in Rome, and two particular locations in the city play a pivotal role in the plot.
The great carnival scene which forms the second tableau is set in the Piazza Colonna (end of Act I in the original Paris version of the opera, Act II in the Weimar version). In the duet and trio in the first tableau Cellini and Teresa agree to meet in Piazza Colonna during the carnival and then elope to Florence: ‘Demain soir, mardi gras, venez Place Colonne, au coin où Cassandro donne un opéra nouveau’. But they are overheard by Fieramosca who plots to thwart their plan. The stage directions for the carnival specify: ‘Piazza Colonna, at the corner of Corso street, in the background the Antonine column and a fountain.’
The carnival itself is abruptly brought to an end by the sound of the cannon fired three times from the top of Castel Sant’ Angelo, on the other side of the Tiber; at this point all the lights – the moccoli – are extinguished and the scene is plunged in darkness. This is greeted with delight by the followers of Cellini as he is able to make his escape (‘Ah! cher canon du fort Saint-Ange, Pour que le jour en nuit se change, Merci! l’instant est bien choisi’) but with dismay by Balducci, Fieramosca and the others (‘Maudit canon! le drôle était saisi’ – ‘Ah! maudit canon que Dieu confonde, Faut-il que ton fâcheux signal Sonne la fin du carnaval!’ in the Weimar version; the wording of the Paris version is slightly different).
Benvenuto Cellini in Rome in pictures
All the modern photographs reproduced on this page were taken by Michel Austin in May 2007; other pictures have been scanned from engravings and other publications in our own collection. © Monir Tayeb and Michel Austin. All rights of reproduction reserved.
1. The Piazza Colonna
The Piazza Colonna in the 1890s
The above photo has been scanned from John L. Stoddard’s
Lectures, Volume 8 – Florence, Naples, Rome, by John L. Stoddard
The Colonna Antonina
The column was erected by the emperor Marcus Aurelius, who
reigned from AD 161
to 180, and dedicated to his predecessor Antoninus Pius, who reigned from AD 138 to 161.
The road running from left to the right of the picture is Via
The fountain was designed by Giacomo della Porta, who with
Pirro Ligorio laid the fountains in the Villa d’Este
in Tivoli; he also designed one of the fountains of the Piazza
2. The Castel Sant’Angelo
This massive fortress takes its name from
the vision that Pope Gregory the Great had of the Archangel Michael on this
site. It began life in AD 139 as Emperor Hadrian’s mausoleum. Since then it
has served many functions, including in medieval times
that of citadel and prison. It is now a museum
and its 58 rooms cover all aspects of the castle’s history.
The Castel Sant’Angelo in 1850
The above engraving was published in the Illustrated London
News, 4 May 1850.
The Castel Sant’Angelo in the 19th century
The Castel Sant’Angelo in 2007
One of the statues at the castle end of the bridge
The plaque on the façade above the entrance
© Michel Austin and Monir Tayeb for all the pictures and information on this page.
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