We cannot remember a greater spectacle on any London opera stage than ENO’s Benevenuto Cellini, which we saw last night. With more than 100 singers, jugglers, acrobats and children on stage and the chorus belting out Berlioz right into our faces, Terry Gilliam’s production flies so far over the top that it outsmarts and outbarnums any circus on earth – including Monty Python’s.
The jokes are, as you’d expect from a Python, sly and none too subtle. The singing is world-class – Michael Spyres in the title role, Corinne Winters as the hot-to-trot Teresa and Willard White as a magnificently political Pope.
Taking into account the scale of the production, the comic effects were timed to the nanosecond and brilliantly executed, both on stage and above the audience’s heads. Compared to the tawdry samba dancing we saw in Trafalgar Square for the soccer World Cup launch, this was a fantastical blending of high performance and high art – the kind of thing you see more in your dreams than on any stage. Truly, the greatest show on earth this month.
Fortunate audiences in Rome and Amsterdam will get to see the co-pro show next season. London tickets are all but sold out.
Now here’s a well-kept secret that slipped out last night between one interval drink and the next.
At the climax of the opera, Cellini has to forge the Pope’s new statue by dawn or be hanged by the neck until dead. Will he, won’t he? How do you get an audience to believe that the rising statue has been freshly forged in the burning fiery furnace?
Brows were furrowed, heads put together. ‘I know,’ cried someone. ‘Let’s talk to the guys who staged the spectacular show of the 2012 London Olympics. The one who made the towers of the satanic mills in the industrial revolution sequence.’
One call did it. Matthew Whitehead, an English designer who is Creative Director of Airworks B.V. in Amersterdam, came up with the perfect solution for the mighty statue. Shall we tell you how he did it?
No. Pity to spoil the illusion. It’s a fantastic climax.