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Rage, fury, opium-addled love: Berlioz Symphonie Fantastique

26 March 2019

Rage, fury and opium-addled love in Orchestra Wellington’s Berlioz
Symphonie Fantastique

Orchestra Wellington is beginning its Epic 2019 season with the
original anthem to sex, drugs and rock and roll.

The French composer used opium to help fire his imagination in
composing a piece that ripped through the classical music world like
an earthquake.

The epic Symphonie Fantastique, to be performed in the season’s opener
at the Michael Fowler Centre on Friday 12th April, sees the French
composer utilising one of the largest orchestras of its time.

Over 150 years before Lou Reed sang about heroin, Berlioz presented
his audience with programme notes describing a lovesick, opium addled
artist progressing through “Reveries and passions”, “A Ball”, a
“Scene in the Country,” a “March to the Scaffold,” and finally a
“Witches Sabbath.”

Whether he was able to do that because, or in spite of his altered
mental state, there’s no doubt that Berlioz’s 1830 masterpiece
continues to delight, beguile and even frighten audiences to this day.

The symphony’s catalyst is most likely Belioz’s doomed love for an
Irish actress, who has a tune all of her own which the composer uses
to tie the whole piece together.

It’s full of charm and grace in the first movement, wistful in the
second and third, hovers above the “artist” as he’s about to lose his
head in the fourth, and is a banshee howl in the finale.

Also on the bill is the sequel Berlioz composed to Symphonie
Fantastique, titled Lelio.

Performing and narrating Lelio is Outrageous Fortune and Shortland
Street actor Andrew Laing, with tenor Declan Cudd, baritone Daniel
O’Connor and the Orpheus Choir of Wellington.

Lelio, the Return to Life, was in typical Berlioz over the top fashion
devised for an invisible orchestra - the musicians were to perform
behind a lowered curtain.

These two works are rarely performed together. Orchestra Wellington’s
opener for 2019 under the baton of Marc Taddei – on a Friday night, is
a thriller.

Fantastic Symphonies

Marc Taddei – Music Director
Andrew Laing – Narrator
Declan Cudd – Tenor
Daniel O’Connor – Baritone
The Orpheus Choir of Wellington

Berlioz - Symphonie Fantastique
Berlioz - Lelio

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