Wednesday, 16 February 2011
Only connect - Berlioz's first score of total bloody-minded genius, La mort de Cleopatre is really about Juliet after all; and so it's back to my idee fixe of last month. I listened to it again - Janet Baker with Alexander Gibson, both electrifying - in preparation for tonight's pre-performance talk before the LPO concert conducted by the electrifying Yannick Nezet-Seguin, another born galvanizer, with statuesque Anna Caterina Antonacci as the serpent of old Nile. Do come along to the main Festival Hall auditorium at 6.15 and I'll take you through some of the extraordinary sounds Berlioz gave birth to, in later composers as much as in himself. It's a help that Ravel, the other greatest orchestrator of all time, shares the programme.
So. Not only is the first part of the Cleopatra monologue hardly what the Prix de Rome judges were looking for in 1829 - it breaks up, it modulates restlessly, the aria proper never settles - but the ensuing 12/8 Invocation, vintage Berlioz, is really a preparatory study for Juliet's death (though its inspiration and final shudders are completely different from the tomb scene in the 'dramatic symphony').
Wrote Berlioz to a friend: 'I wish you could hear the scene where Cleopatra wonders "how her shade will be received by the shades of the Pharaohs entombed in the pyramids". It's awesome, tremendous! It's the scene where Juliet meditates on her entombment in the vault of the Capulets, surrounded alive by the bones of her ancestors and the corpse of Tybalt: the growing dread, the thoughts that culminate in cries of terror, accompanied by cellos and basses plucking the rhythm [which he writes out]. Oh!, Shakespeare, Shakespeare!'
Indeed. And this is another Berlioz inspiration where the music, if not the text, does the Bard justice. Anyway, I'm looking forward hugely to the performance. Better dash now, but if you can't make it, here's the peerless Dame Granite in the second-half Invocation: