The Hector Berlioz Website

The Jewish Question in Weimar Benvenuto Cellini

By

Yoël L. Arbeitman

© 2019 Yoël L. Arbeitman

In memory of Elliott P. Ribner,
musician and dear friend
(May 12, 1949-August 4, 2018)

    Benvenuto Cellini, in its Weimar libretto, as we have it in its French text, contains two explicitly antisemitic loci. That is one more than the Paris libretto contains and two more than any such explicit locus in the operas of Richard Wagner. Paris’ single locus is fairly innocuous and would not, of itself, be worthy of comment. There is, as well-understood, no one Weimar version of this opera; indeed there is no one Paris version. The history of Weimar Cellini is very complex. Thomasin K. La May (“A New Look at the Weimar Versions of Berlioz’ ‘Benvenuto Cellini’,” The Musical Quarterly 65:4 [Oct., 1979: 559-572]) informs us: “...there is no one ‘Weimar version’ any more than there had been one ‘Paris version’.” Some time during the summer of 1851 Liszt decided to revive Cellini in Weimar …. “The changes which Berlioz made in his manuscript were probably those that were tried out in the Paris production. When Liszt staged Cellini for the first time in Weimar, it was a version of the Paris production. …. Liszt made no alterations other than to have the libretto translated by August Riccius, who occasionally edited or translated articles for Liszt into German. …. [Hans] von Bülow, then twenty-two, lived in the Liszt household. .... He was a staunch enemy of Riccius, who disliked Wagner. …. It is hardly surprising that von Bülow found Riccius’ translation ‘a weak lemonade of translation (Übersetzungslemonade)’. (….Riccius and von Bülow engaged in several verbal battles. Riccius printed his remarks in the Hamburger Nachrichten and von Bülow usually wrote for the Neue Zeitschrift.) ”. Liszt and von Bülow (not easy to determine who led and who followed) suppressed the fourth tableau. “Berlioz then composed new recitatives and words to Ascanio’s air in French, which von Bülow possibly translated into German. …. [In Nov., 1852] Riccius’ translation had to be reprinted to include changes and cuts”. At Covent Garden Berlioz conducted this in an Italian translation by Nicodemo, but Berlioz revised much of it himself. For the intended 1854 Dresden performance (which never happened), commissioned by Liszt, “Peter Cornelius provided a complete, new German libretto, which was eventually published with the Litolff score. Cornelius had moved into the Liszt household after von Bülow’s departure in 1853....”.

    Hugh Macdonald (Music in 1853: The Biography of a Year, 2012:165) shows us with examples the degree to which Berlioz was pleased with Cornelius as his translator and the overwhelming admiration Cornelius had for Berlioz: “It was in a report for the Berlin Echo’s first issue of 1854 that Cornelius suggested Berlioz as the third B in a triumvirate with Bach and Beethoven, a notion later stolen by von Bülow in naming Brahms, not Berlioz in that honoured place”. And thus, von Bülow, that rare man, long a fan of both Brahms and Wagner, a member of the Liszt household, a man cuckolded earlier by Wagner, perhaps strikes not at Berlioz, but at Wagner (or at all “New Music”, which included Liszt, Wagner, and Berlioz). This Dresden version was performed Feb., 1856 in Weimar by Liszt “and the Litolff score, served as the basis for the subsequent French publication by Choudens in 1863”. Berlioz and Princess Carolyne Sayn-Wittgenstein begin correspondence about “beneficial changes which have been thought of by the authors” for an intended production [with dialogue] at the Théâtre-Lyrique (which never took place).

    The whole revision process is heavily influenced by Liszt and his household, which includes von Bülow, Cornelius, and Princess Sayn-Wittgenstein. This is the sine qua non for any analysis of what is Paris and what is Weimar. Berlioz however seems to have considered all versions a continuum rather than distinct versions.

    Dominique Catteau in Hector Berlioz ou la philosophie artiste, tome 2, writes: “Dans toute son œuvre on ne trouve pas un seul mot contre les Juifs, encore moins une position développée, et dans toute sa vie, on rencontre l’amitié fidèle et lumineuse pour des Juifs qu’il admire sans le moindre souci de leur judéité. …. Une déroutante exception toutefois, en apparence en tout cas et très littéralement, dans Benvenuto Cellini, Berlioz esquisse la caricature musicale d’un Juif réputé typique sous les traits du cabaretier qui psalmodie lamentablement ses jérémiades sur les dettes accumulées à ses dépens. Berlioz aurait sans doute pu s’abstenir du lieu commun, depuis d’ailleurs bien des siècles. Mais c’est la caractérisation musicale qui l’intéresse, non pas la race du personnage. .... Quant à la harangue finale de Cellini dans la même scène, qui invite ses ciseleurs à se venger bientôt de ‘ce Juif mesquin, qui dans son arrogance, (le) traite en vrai faquin’, elle vise non “plus le cabaretier, mais le trésorier du Pape, Balducci, qui vient sur l’ordre d’en haut de lui faire verser une somme, que l’artiste juge naturellement insuffisante, en acompte pour la fonte du Persée; et qui bien évidemment redouble sa mesquinerie en lui refusant la main de sa fille Térésa. Berlioz ne “s’en prend pas à l’orgueil juif et ne touche en rien à la judéité. Balducci et le cabaretier, c’est visible et audible, sont utilisés dramatiquement, et grimés en conséquence pour l’effet scénique attendu: c’est parce qu’ils sont avares et stupides qu’on les habille en juifs, et non pas du tout parce qu’ils sont juifs qu’on les déclare pingres et obtus.”

    [My translation, YLA]: “In all his work we don’t find a single word against the Jews, even less a developed position, and in all his life we find faithful and clear friendship for Jews he admired without the least concern for their Jewishness”.... “A perplexing exception however both in appearance and very literally, in Benvenuto Cellini, Berlioz sketches a musical caricature of a Jew deemed typical under the traits of the Innkeeper who chants lamentably his Jeremiads over the accumulated debts to his costs. But it is the musical characterization which interests him, not the race of the personage [emphasis mine, YLA]. As far as the final harangue of Cellini in the same scene, which invites the sculptors to take revenge soon on ‘this wretched Jew who in his arrogance treats (him) so shabbily’ – it refers no longer to the Innkeeper, but to the Pope’s treasurer, Balducci, who comes on the orders of his superiors to have him offer a sum which the artist judges insufficient in payment for the casting of Perseus and who quite evidently doubles his wretchedness by refusing him the hand of his daughter, Teresa. Berlioz doesn’t lash out at Jewish pride and isn’t concerned at all with Jewishness. Balducci and the Innkeeper, we can both see and hear, are used dramatically and made up accordingly for the expected scenic effect. It is because they are miserly and stupid that they are dressed as Jews, and not at all because they are Jews that they are declared niggardly and obtuse [emphasis mine, YLA]”.

    Here I simply don’t comprehend this “racist/non-racist” distinction that M. Catteau is suggesting. To my mind the statement and its inverse = the same. If the facts that the author adduces be correct, then his well-intended conclusion seems impossible to me. There is no reason to impute racist or ethnic antisemitism to Hector Berlioz and, in this matter, I concur with M. Catteau, but not in his self-contradictory apologia for the opera Benvenuto Cellini in whatever version(s) he is considering. I shall offer an alternate understanding of these loci while adducing alternate facts. Let us repeat that there are many versions of this opera: 1834 Paris 0 and Berlioz’ intended last version for the Théatre-Lyrique as opera comique (see Christian Wasselin’s essay in the libretto to the Nelson recording, p. 26, end “qui n’exista jamais sauf dans l’esprit de Berlioz et de ses librettistes”, [“which never existed except in the mind of Berlioz and his librettists"]; 1838 Paris I; 1839 Paris II; Weimar additions and changes by von Bülow and Liszt; German translation by Riccius, Italian translation by Nicodemo used by Berlioz in his 1853 Covent Garden performance, Berlioz-approved 2nd German translation, by Cornelius, and the 1863 French Weimar (Choudens) publication. In modern times we have e.g. the libretto as used in the Colin Davis 1972 recording, that used in the 2002-2003 performance at the Zurich opera house, and the Bärenreiter critical edition by Hugh Macdonald, used in the Nelson recording. I cite the Zurich for reasons inherent to the argument I make below. I shall consider here the Paris I-II, the Riccius German, the Italian Nicodemo, the Cornelius German, and the (Choudens) Weimar French libretti. We live at a marvelous time when all these versions are available on the internet.

    Let us examine the data:
    The French language Paris version(s) of our opera present the Innkeeper as a “nightmarish”, horrid caricature. However Berlioz lets us, we who watch, see and hear, know that this is what we see and hear through the mind and soul of the impecunious Cellini and his followers. From Act II/4 scene 9 of Paris Cellini, I shall quote only the lines and stage directions necessary for the present topic. The quotes are from the libretto to Nelson’s recording, based on the Bärenreiter New Berlioz Edition (1996, edited by Hugh Macdonald). First we have scene 9 (the Innkeeper semiscene):

Entre le cabaretier.

Le cabaretier, avec hésitation
Que voulez-vous? La cave est vide.
Cellini
Que dis-tu là, cervelle aride?
Le cabaretier
Je dis que vous avez trop bu;
Et si vous voulez encor boire,
Il faut...
Cellini, Bernardino, élèves
Il faut...?
Le cabaretier
Il faut payer votre mémoire.
….

Cellini
Non, jamais les trompettes
Du jugement dernier
Ne sauraient effrayer
Plus que la voix fatale....
Cellini, Bernardino, élèves
Et la liste infernale
De ce cabaretier.
Cellini
Comment sortir d’embarras?

Francesco saisit aux mains du cabaretier sa perche entaillée.

Bernardino, élèves
Maître, si nous rossions un peu ce traître?
Le cabaretier se sauve
….

Then scene 10 (the Balducci semiscene):

Cellini, vidant le sac
Comment! Rien que cela?
Bernardino, Francesco, élèves
Ah! la chétive somme!
Ascanio
C’est un si vilain homme
Que ce vieux trésorier!
….

Cellini,
Mes amis, plus de vin!

Le cabaretier s’en va

Mais que notre vengeance
Frappe ce juif mesquin,
Qui dans son arrogance
Me traite en vrai faquin.
Ascanio, Bernardino, élèves
Oui, vengeance, vengeance!

[My translation:YLA]:

The Innkeeper enters

The Innkeeper, with hesitation
What do you wish?
The (wine-)cellar is empty.
Cellini
What are you saying there, dry brain?
The Innkeeper
I am saying that you have drunk too much;
And, if you wish to drink more,
You have to
...

Cellini, Bernardino, and apprentices
Have to...?
The Inkeeper
You have to pay your bill.
….

Cellini
No, never the trumpets
Of the Last Judgment
Would be able to frighten
More than the fatal voice
....

Cellini, Bernardino, apprentices
And the infernal list
Of this Innkeeper.
Cellini
How to get out of embarrassment?

Francesco seizes the Innkeeper’s notched pole from his hands.

Bernardino, apprentices
Master, should we thrash this traitor a little?

The Innkeeper runs off
….

Cellini, emptying the bag
What? Nothing but this?
Bernardino, Francesco, apprentices
Ah! The paltry sum!
Ascanio
He is a very nasty man
This old treasurer!
….

Cellini
My friends, no more wine!

The Innkeeper leaves

But let our vengeance
Strike this wretched Jew
Who in his arrogance,
Treats me so shabbily.
Ascanio, Bernardino, apprentices
Vengeance, vengeance!

    The first of the three non-French Weimar libretti to be considered is that of August F. Riccius, as printed for a 1852 performance at Weimar, conducted by Liszt (Besetzung am Grossherzoglichen Hoftheater zu Weimar [“Performance at the Grand-ducal Court Theatre at Weimar”]). I cite Riccius’ translation from Library of (US) Congress control #2010658461; online image format. I follow it with my translation. All three non-French libretti adduced provide complete casts, one indeed naming every member of the orchestra. I ignore this rich information here except in one case in the Italian Covent Garden performance.

Benvenuto Cellini
OPER
In vier Abtheilungen

Von Léon de Wailly und Auguste Barbier;
deutsche Bearbeitung von A. F. Riccius;
Musik von Hector Berlioz
Besetzung am Grossherzoglichen Hoftheater zu Weimar

(image 8)

2e Scene.

Die Vorigen     Der Wirth.
Der Wirth.
Was schreit Ihr so? Ich geb’ nicht mehr!
Cellini.
Was sagst du mir, erbärmlicher Geselle?
Wirth.
Ich sage euch, zu viel schon tranket Ihr!
Und wenn
Ihr noch wollt weiter zechen
So muss . . . .
Chor.
So muss . . . .
Wirth.
Zuvor ich mit Euch rechnen.
Chor. So, zeige, was wir schuldig Dir!
Cellini.
Wie bei dem Weltgerichte
Des Herrn Posaune hallt;
So niederschmetternd schallt
Dies höllische Register . . . .
Cellini und Chor.
Von diesem Teufelspriester,
Von diesem Bösewicht.
Chor und Bernardino.

(entreissen den Händen des Wirths sein grosses Rechenbret)

                        Meister,
Lass uns bestrafen den Betrüger!
Cellini.
Noch nicht gekommen ist dazu die Zeit.

(image 9)

3e Scene

Cellini.
O, diese Kleinigkeit!
Chor.
O, diese Kleinigkeit!
Ascanio.
Balducci geizt gar sehr,
Sonst hätten wir wohl mehr.
Cellini.
Nein, Freunde . . . keinen Wein!
Doch lasset uns geloben Vergeltung diesem Wicht,
Der Kechlich uns betrogen,
Schenkt ihm Verzeihung nicht!
Chor.
Ja, wir geloben ihm Rache.

[My translation; YLA]
….
(Staged at the grand-ducal court theatre at Weimar).

Second Division (= Act)
2nd Scene

The Preceding     The Host.
The Host.
Why are you screaming so? I’m not giving anymore!
Cellini.
What are you saying to me, miserable fellow?
Host.
I’m saying to you, you already drank too much!
And, if you want to carouse further,
You must . . . .
Chorus.
Must what . . . .
Host.
First I must settle with you.
Chorus.
Show then, what we owe you!
. . . .
Cellini.
As at the World Judgment
The Lord’s trumpet sounds;
So crushingly resounds
This hellish index . . . .
Cellini and Chorus.
Of this Devil’s Priest,
Of this Evil Creature.
Chorus and Bernardino.
(they rip from the Host’s hands his abacus).

3rd Scene (image 9)
Cellini.
Oh, this trifle!
Chorus.
Oh, this trifle!
Ascanio.
Balducci skimps a lot,
Otherwise we would have much more.
Cellini.
No, Friends . . . no wine!
However let’s vow
Pay back to this creature,
who has impudently deceived us,
Offer him no pardon!
Chorus.
Yes, we vow him vengeance.

    The bilingual libretto of the Covent Garden 1853 Italian language performance is online as a Google Book. I follow the Italian with the original libretto’s English translation.

Royal Italian Opera
Covent Garden Theatre
Benvenuto Cellini
One shilling and sixpence
A Lyric Play in Three Acts
BY
L. DE WAILLY AND A. BARBIER
TRANSLATED
J. NICODEMO of SANTO-MANGO
THE MUSIC BY HECTOR BERLIOZ
AS REPRESENTED AT THE
ROYAL ITALIAN OPERA,
Covent Garden
Composer, Director of the music, & conductor, Mr. Costa
DRAMATIS PERSONÆ
BENVENUTO CELLINI, Florentine sculptor Sig. [Enrico] TAMBERLIK

    (I cite only the tenor singing Cellini here since I have long believed the kind of tenor Tamberlik was is what the tessitura and the force/vehemence demand and rarely have received).

    At the upper right corner of this libretto there is a handwritten note in English: “From Mr. Costa    June 25, 185[2] 1st performance Mr. Berlioz—conductor”.

ATTO II. Scena III.
Un Oste e detti.

Oste. Non so che far.. Non v’è più vino.
CEL. Che cosa dici, malandrino.
Oste. Dico che troppo bevuto avete,
         E se volete continuare
         Bisogna ….
Coro. (impaziente) Ebbene?
Oste. Che mi paghiate
         Quel che dovete.
Coro. Fate veder quel che dobbiamo?
CEL. e Coro. Dell’ultimo giudizio
         Le trombe no, non sono
         Terribili così;
         Come la voce orribile
         E la lista infernale
        Di quel villano ostier.
CEL. Como uscir d’intrígo....
Coro e BER. Maestro, se punisssimo quel ladro..
CEL. …. Tristo mezzo è questo quà;

Scena IV.
….

CEL. È tutta! altro non v’è?
Coro. Oh che meschina somma!
ASC. Che tristo tesoriere,
       Avaro alcerto egli è.
….
CEL. Amici, non più vino!
       Ma sola la vendetta,
       colpisca quel villano,
       che poco mi rispetta
       Trattandomi così.
Coro. Vendetta, sì, vendetta!

    (Note that the Italian cognate of the mesquin of the French mesquin juif is here “transferred” to the “paltry sum” which becomes meschina somma).

[Their translation]:

ACT II. Scene III.
Inn K. I do not know what to do; there is no more wine.
CEL. What are you saying, great rogue!
Inn K. I say you already drank too much,
           And if you will continue,
           You must---
Cho. (with impatience.) Well?
Inn K. First pay
            What you already owe
….
CEL. & Cho. The trumpets
                        Of the Last Day,
                       will not be so terrible
                       As the voice
                       And the infernal list
                      Of that wicked Innkeeper.
CEL. How to settle all this?
Cho. & BER. Governor, if we were to punish the .. thief.
CEL. This is a bad expedient.

Scene IV.
CEL. Is this all! Nothing more?
Cho. Oh what a miserable sum.
ASC. What a bad treasurer,
            He must be very avaritious.
CEL.
….
Friends, no more wine,
    But now we must take revenge
    Against that villain,
    That shows no respect for us,
    Treating us in this way.

    I cite Cornelius’ German translation from Library of (US) Congress control #2010658245 on-line image format. BENVENUTO CELLINI OPER in drei Abtheilungen von LÉON DE WAILLY und AUGUSTE BARBIER Deutsche Bearbeitung von PETER CORNELIUS MUSIC von HECTOR BERLIOZ (Als Manuscript gedruckt.) WEIMAR 1856.

    I shall follow it with my translation.
    The German language Weimar version, as rendered by Peter Cornelius, presents the Innkeeper otherwise. Act II/3 (Dritter Auftritt; the Innkeeper scene [image 8 digital copy]), listing the scene’s dramatis personae, gives us:

Die Vorigen    Der Wirth (jüdisch grotesk)
Wirth (mit näselnder Stimme).
Der Wein ist all’, nicht mehr in den Krügen.
Cellini.
Willst, alter Schelm, Du uns belügen?
Wirth. Ich sag’, Herr … schuldig seid Ihr mir
Und wollt mehr des Weins Ihr trinken,
So lasst Zechinen blinken.
….
Cellini.
Nein, beim jüngsten Gerichte
Tönt der Posaune Klang
Nicht so gräulich und bang,
Wie dies Schenkenereigniss,
Wie dies Sünderverzeichniss,
Herr Wirth – wie Dein Gesang!
Wer hilft uns hier heraus?
Chor und Bernardino.
Schändlich!
Man macht’s durch Prügel
Ihn verständlich.

II/3 (Vierter Auftritt; the Balducci scene):

Cellini: Ha, Schmach! Bringst Du nicht mehr?
Chor: Ach! Nein, das ist zu ärmlich.
Askanio: Ein Geizhals ganz erbärmlich
               War Balducci von je!
Cellini: Freunde, nein, kein Wein,
Doch strafen und beschämen
Lasst uns Balducci heut’
Dess schändliches Benehmen
Uns Rache streng gebeut.
Chor: Ja, lasst Rache uns benehmen.

[My translation; YLA]:

The preceding    The Host (Jewish grotesque)
Host. (with nasal voice).
The wine is finished, no more in the jugs.
Cellini. Do you wish, old rogue, to deceive us?
Host. I say, Sir, … you are in debt to me
And, if you to want to drink more wine,
Then make the sequins glitter.
….
Cellini. No, at the Last Judgment
The sound of the trumpet resounds
Not so dreadfully and frightfully,
As this tavern-occurrence,
As this index of sins,
Sir Host – as your song!
Who here helps us out?
Dreadful!

Chorus and Bernardino.
We’ll make it clear to him by a cudgel.
Cellini: Oh, shame! That’s all you bring?
Chorus: Wow! No, that is too meager.
Askanio: A cheapskate quite pathetic
               Balducci always was!
Cellini: Friends, no, not wine,
             Rather let’s punish and humiliate
             Balducci today.
             Whose dreadful behaviour
             Demands our vengeance.
Chorus: Yes, let us take vengeance.

    As we see, Cornelius has nothing corresponding to juif mesquin of all French versions and he, thus, removes the opprobrium of Jewishness from Balducci. Instead he applies this opprobrium, and in the most hideously ugly way, to the Innkeeper.

    When we come to the French language Weimar version, the Balducci Jewishness of the Paris version(s) get combined with the Innkeeper Jewishness of the German Weimar Cornelius version, with the following results (I cite this version from the libretto on the Berlioz website, followed by my translation):

Act II, No 6
(Entre le cabaretier, espèce de vieux juif à la voix nasillarde.)

LE CABARETIER (avec hésitation)
Que voulez-vous? La cave est vide.
CELLINI (rapidement)
Que dis-tu là, cervelle aride?
LE CABARETIER
Je dis que... vous avez trop bu,
Et si vous voulez encor boire,
Il faut... il faut...
LE CHŒUR
Il faut..?
LE CABARETIER
Il faut payer votre mémoire.
….
CELLINI
Non, jamais les trompettes
Du jugement dernier
Ne sauraient effrayer
Plus que la voix fatale

(avec le chœur)
Et la liste infernale
de ce... cabaretier

(réfléchissant)
Comment sortir d’embarras?

(Francesco saisit aux mains du cabaretier sa perche entaillée)

FRANCESCO ET LES AUTRES
Maître, si nous rossions un peu ce traître?
(Le cabaretier se sauve.)

Act II, no.7

CELLINI (vidant le sac)
Comment! rien que cela?
FRANCESCO et BERNARDINO
Ah! la chétive somme!
ASCANIO
C’est un si vilain homme
Que ce trésorier!
….

CELLINI
Mes amis, plus de vin!
Mais que notre vengeance
Frappe ce juif mesquin,
Qui dans son arrogance
Me traite en vrai faquin.
….

[My translation; YLA]:

(The Innkeeper enters, a type of old Jew with a nasal voice)

THE INNKEEPER (with hesitation)
What do you wish?
The (wine-)cellar is empty.
CELLINI (rapidly)
What are you saying there, dry brain?
THE INNKEEPER
I am saying that... you have drunk too much,
And, if you wish to drink more,
You have to... you have to...
THE CHORUS
Have to...?
THE INNKEEPER
You have to pay your bill.
….

CELLINI
No, never the trumpets
Of the Last Judgment
Would be able to frighten
More than the fatal voice

(with the chorus)
And the infernal list
Of this...Innkeeper.

(reflecting)
How to get out of embarrassment?

(Francesco seizes the Innkeeper’s notched pole from his hands).

FRANCESCO AND THE OTHERS
Master, should we thrash this traitor a little?

(The Innkeeper runs off.)

    Now we come to the Balducci semiscene (Act II, No. 7).

CELLINI (emptying the bag)
What! Nothing but this?
FRANCESCO and BERNARDINO
Ah! the paltry sum!
ASCANIO
He’s a very nasty man
This old treasurer!
….

CELLINI
My friends, no more wine!
But let our vengeance
Strike that wretched Jew,
Who in his arrogance
Treats me so shabbily!

    Look, Cellini doesn’t care for the Innkeeper but his vengeance is reserved for the Papal treasurer. It is the latter alone whom he calls a Jew in both the Paris and Weimar French libretti, albeit the stage directions in Weimar German Cornelius libretto labels only the Innkeeper as such, while the French Weimar publication both retains this appellation for the Papal treasurer and includes stage directions also labelling the Innkeeper as such. The holding up an important Jew, such as Balducci, to public scorn and humiliation during the Roman Carnival was a historical and contemporaneous reality with which Berlioz could not have been unfamiliar. David I. Kertzer (The Pope who would be King, 2018:98), speaking of events in 1848, writes: “He [Pius IX] had put an end to the centuries-old humiliating public spectacle of vassalage requiring the officers of Rome’s Jewish community on the first Saturday of Carnival to pay an annual tribute to the Senator of Rome as a large, raucous crowd jeered and mocked them”. So, irrespective of any adjective uttered as invective, the opera’s Balducci is conceived as a Jew; yet the opera ignores the inherent problem of Cellini’s “abduction” (in a legal sense) and marrying of une Juive, if I may be allowed this allusion to Halévy’s opera.

    It is worthwhile to raise the possibility that (in whatever state of the Vorlage he used) Cornelius understood the phrase juif mesquin, uttered by Cellini, as referring back to the Innkeeper and not as referring forward to the Papal treasurer. Indeed, it is to prevent such a misunderstanding that David Cairns, both in his English translation of the 1972 Davis libretto and in his co-authored translation to the Nelson libretto, expands, “Let’s have our revenge on that shabby Jew Balducci”, where the French lacks the family name of “the shabby Jew”.

    Then Cornelius created his own hideously ugly juxtaposition of epithets, labelling the Innkeeper as jüdisch grotesk, where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Thereafter Cornelius omitted translating juif mesquin altogether.

    After this, a French language Weimar text comes into being which substitutes the extended and loaded stage direction:

(Entre le cabaretier, espèce de vieux juif à la voix nasillarde.)
(he Innkeeper enters, a type of old Jew with a nasal voice)

for what in the Paris Benvenuto Cellini had been the unspecified:

(Entre le cabaretier)
(The Innkeeper enters).

    To summarize the data at this point:

Paris French: 1 Jew: Balducci;
Weimar German, Riccius: 0 Jew;
Weimar Italian, Nicodemo: 0 Jew;
Weimar German, Cornelius 1 Jew: The Innkeeper;
Weimar French (Choudens) 2 Jews: Balducci and The Innkeeper.

    This French language Weimar version maintains the French Paris lines about taking revenge on the wretched Jew, with the result that, whereas both the Paris version and Cornelius’ German translation each had one single (different) Jewish enemy, the new French language Weimar version had two awful Jews to make life miserable for our anti-hero, Benvenuto Cellini, and his gang.

    It is reasonable to deduce the origin of both Cornelius’ atrocious description of his one Jew and the doubling of the antisemitism in eventual Weimar French Cellini. Obviously August F. Riccius and J. Nicodemo are free from this taint. Oliver Hilmes, in his biography of the lady whom he indexes as Cosima Liszt-Bülow-Wagner (Cosima Wagner: the Lady of Bayreuth. German 2007; English translation 2010:109), writes:

“As for the reasons for Cosima’s hatred of the Jews, it seems likely she was first infected with the virus during her years as a young woman in Paris in the 1850s and that she may have caught it from the rabidly Catholic Carolyne von Sayn-Wittgenstein or the no less fanatical Madame Patersi de Fossombrosi. Liszt, too, was not entirely free from anti-Jewish sentiments, and her first husband, Hans von Bülow, can certainly be described as an anti-Semite of the first order”.

    The Polish Princess had gotten the 72 year old French national, Madame Louise Adélaïde Patersi de Fossombrosi, out of her Saint Petersburg retirement to serve a governess for Liszt’s three children, Daniel, Blandine, and Cosima. Madame de Fossombrosi had once been the future Princess’ own governess (p.18 et passim). Thus, we see that in varying degrees the entirety of the extended Franz Liszt household was infected with antisemitism. Hilmes makes no note of Cornelius’ antisemitism. It can be inferred both (1) in general from the household of which he was a prominent member and (2) in particular from his Cellini translation. To what extent Berlioz, in accepting this Cornelius Weimar libretto (1) simply went along, in his happy surprise at the revivification of the opera, dubbed Malvenuto Cellini, or (2) actively agreed, we cannot know. We do know that it is totally absent in the Italian language performance he conducted. With the eventual French Weimar (Choudens) version one cannot assume any Berlioz care or concern with this long ago opera. With the German Weimar Cornelius matters, however, one can agree with the proverb: “Lie down with dogs, get up with fleas”. The household of Franz Liszt had dogs who carried the fleas of European antisemitism.

    Mark Berry has an article (on the web) “Owing the World a Tannhäuser”, where he quotes Cosima Wagner’s diary note about her husband’s concerns, 20 days before his death, about the major differences between the Dresden and Paris versions of his opera: “He says he still owes the world a Tannhäuser”. In Wagner’s case the Dresden version was the first, the Paris the later, altered version. Of course Verdi certainly owes the world a Don Carlos. Perhaps the selections made by Maestro Nelson, in his 2003 recording of Paris I-II (with some minor Weimar musical re-touchings) of Berlioz’ problematic work, will come near, for the time being, to offering an approximation, with the exception of his putting Cellini’s Romance “Une heure encore. La gloire était ma seule idole” in the appendix.

    In the matter of Berlioz’ sui generis opera, Benvenuto Cellini, we are for many reasons well rid of the eviscerated French Weimar make-do. Add to these many reasons, it is time to dispense once and for all with the hideous antisemitism that infects Cornelius’ influential translation and subsequently the French Weimar version. This antisemitism has infected certain not carefully edited performances of a Paris version, as most recently in the bilingual libretto to the 2002-2003 performances at The Opera House of Zurich which has the French Weimar 2 Jews: it both maintains Cellini’s outburst against Balducci as juif mesqin, which it translates in its bilingual French-German libretto as Knausrigen Juden (“niggardly/stingy Jew”; this is not a translation but rather an adjective into which the translator’s view of Balducci is projected) and it includes Cornelius’ alternate Jew to whom it lends a conflated description:

“Deuxième Tableau, Scène VIIIe
Entre le Cabaretier, vieux juif grotesque à la voix nasillarde.
This is rendered in their translation of their French text into their own German as:
Der Wirt tritt ein, ein alter, grotesker Jude mit näselnder Stimme”.

    There is little difference from Cornelius’ translation into German other than Zurich using modern German orthography in the case of the translation of le cabaretier as der Wirt.

    Since this is the reading of neither the French Paris nor French Weimar version, either (1) they copied some other French Weimar or corrupted, mixed version, which I have not seen or (2) they decided to literally render into their Paris version a direct translation from Peter Cornelius’ German translation.

The Hector Berlioz Website was created by Monir Tayeb and Michel Austin on 18 July 1997; this page was created on 15 April 2019.

© Monir Tayeb and Michel Austin. All rights of reproduction reserved.

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