- Hugh Macdonald
Opéra in five acts and seven tableaux by Camille Saint-Saëns to a libretto by Louis Gallet after Paul Meurice’s play Benvenuto Cellini; Paris, Opéra, 21 March 1890.
Composed in 1887–8, Ascanio makes a grand opera of a play of intrigue set in Paris in 1539. Meurice, whom Saint-Saëns knew well, had collaborated with Alexandre Dumas père on his novel Benvenuto Cellini, published in 1843, and had fashioned a successful play from the story in 1852. To avoid confusion with Berlioz’s opera the title was changed (even though Cellini is still the principal character in the drama) and a scene in the play where Cellini runs out of metal when casting a statue was not included. The choice of an episode from Cellini’s life that took place in France at the court of François I satisfied Saint-Saëns’ longstanding desire to base his operas on French history, and by casting the third act as a ...