In the 19th century, the German spa town of Baden-Baden was the place to be in the summer. Wealthy international tourists could bathe in artesian wells by day and by night gamble at the casino or attend performances at a splendid theater modeled on the Paris Opera.
That theater opened on today’s date in 1862 with the premiere of a new comic opera by the French composer Hector Berlioz, based closely on Shakespeare's comedy ‘Much Ado About Nothing', and titled “Beatrice and Benedict” after the witty pair of lovers in the play. The composer himself conducted.
“A great success,” Berlioz wrote the next day. “… applauded from beginning to end. I was recalled to the stage I don’t know how many times.” Despite the success, Berlioz confessed, “My infernal neuralgia was so bad that I mounted the podium … without feeling the slightest emotion. This bizarre indifference meant I conducted better than usual!”
Despite making light of his increasing illness, possibly Crohn’s Disease, this opera proved to be his last work, and Berlioz had only a few more years to live. His biographer David Cairns writes: "Listening to the score's exuberant gaiety, only momentarily touched by sadness, one would never guess that its composer was in pain when he wrote it and impatient for death.”
Music Played in Today's Program
Hector Berlioz (1803 – 1869)”Beatrice and Benedict” OvertureBoston Symphony; Charles Munch, cond.RCA Victor Gold Seal 61400