Bienen Ensembles

Berlioz’s Béatrice et Bénédict

Thursday, May 23, 2019 at 7:30pm

Cahn Auditorium

Joachim Schamberger, director; Patrick Furrer, conductor; Rose Xiao, graduate assistant conductor; Northwestern University Chamber Orchestra

Premiered in 1862 at the opening of the Theater Baden Baden, Hector Berlioz’s comic opera is based on Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing. Upon returning home from battle with his friend Bénédict and commander Don Pedro, officer Claudio proposes to the governor’s daughter Hero. Meanwhile, Bénédict and the governor’s niece Béatrice trade merry insults, and Bénédict declares himself a bachelor for life. Don Pedro, up for a challenge, resolves to unite Béatrice and Bénédict in marriage with the help of Claudio, Hero, her father, and their housekeeper. Will their matchmaking succeed? This production incorporates text and scenes from Shakespeare’s play, creating a fluid dramatic progression in service to the genius of both the Bard and Berlioz. Music performed in French with supertitles; dialogue performed in Shakespearean English.

This production's Act I overture briefly incorporates actual video footage of US soldiers in combat.

Tickets are $18 for the general public and $8 for students with valid ID.

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Director's Note

Director's Note

Béatrice et Bénédict is based on Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, which is arguably his most famous comedy. His genius is seen in that he touches on the deepest questions of humanity and love through comedy. Dramatically, Berlioz was mostly interested in the storyline of Beatrice and Benedict and chose to eliminate the more complicated elements of Shakespeare’s original plot. However, he must have been intrigued by the more serious elements of the story as he reflected this in his complex musical score.

At Northwestern we are presenting a new version of the piece. We reinstated more text and scenes from the original Shakespeare and carefully changed the order of several musical numbers. In this way we have created a fluid dramatic progression serving both Berlioz and Shakespeare.

As a director, I am intrigued by the questions the piece raises: How do we fall in love? With whom do we fall? When do we become aware of it? How do we express our love? Do we need someone else’s help to realize and understand our own feelings?

As we see in this production, lively arguments and clever schemes are timeless and help illustrate why we often feel attracted to someone who challenges us through playful and smart teasing or, as Shakespeare puts it: “Thou and I are too wise to woo peaceably.”

— Joachim Schamberger

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 May 23 and 25May 24 and 26
Leonato, the governorRyan LustgartenLorenzo Pipino
Beatrice, Leonato's nieceGabrielle BarkidjijaValeria Rodriguez
Hero, Leonato's daughterMarin TackEmma Rothfield
Ursula, Leonato's housekeeperAryssa BurrsChristine Ebeling
Claudio, soldier, Hero's loverAndrew PayneJeffrey Goldberg
Benedict, soldierAndrew Morstein  Ben DaCosta-Kaufman
Don Pedro, military commanderWalter AldrichKyle Jensen
Somarone, a composerMason CooperElio Bucky
A priestBenedict HensleyKaleb Drawbaugh



Two young soldiers, Claudio and Benedict, leave for war. Claudio’s lover Hero is heartbroken but consoled by her father, Leonato, and his housekeeper Ursula. Beatrice, Leonato’s niece, seems unmoved by the departure. However, she is awakened by strange dreams that night.

Act I

Several months later a group of friends gather at Leonato’s house. They receive news that Claudio and Benedict will return from war safely that night, accompanied by their commander Don Pedro. Hero organizes a spontaneous welcome and is excited to be reunited with Claudio. She is even more thrilled when he proposes to her. Preparations for the wedding start immediately.

The happiness is shared by all except Beatrice and Benedict, who are in “a kind of merry war,” as Ursula says. Sure enough, their old disdain erupts. The only thing on which they agree is that marriage is a horrible idea. Benedict tells Claudio and Don Pedro he would prefer a cloistered life and if he were ever to marry they could put up a sign saying: “Here is Benedict, a married man.” This sparks Don Pedro to convince Leonato, Claudio, Hero, and Ursula to join with him in a scheme to make Beatrice and Benedict fall in love. Somarone, a family friend, enters with a group of musicians. He has composed a piece for the wedding that he regards as “the highest art of poetry.”

Claudio, Don Pedro, and Leonato arrange for Benedict to overhear a pretend conversation in which Beatrice is said to be in love with him. Believing their words, Benedict contemplates the virtues of love and decides to pursue Beatrice.

The intrigue starts to work but Hero begins to feel regret, fearing Beatrice will never forgive their jest. Ursula succeeds in calming her fears while the rehearsal dinner is set up on a lovely summer evening.

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Act II

Everyone is having a wonderful time at the rehearsal dinner and they all join in with Somarone’s improvised drinking song. Claudio and Don Pedro manage to secretly steal a love poem from Benedict that he has written for Beatrice. After the party guests depart, Ursula makes Hero try on her wedding dress for a final fitting. They then play the same trick on Beatrice that the men played on Benedict and make her overhear a conversation about Benedict’s love for her. Alone, Beatrice finally admits her love for Benedict in a letter to him. Ursula and Hero succeed in stealing the love letter and all go to bed as the morning of Hero and Claudio’s wedding arrives. After the ceremony the priest announces that he has been asked to prepare a second wedding contract. Beatrice and Benedict are reluctant at first but are convinced by their own handwriting as Claudio and Hero present them with the stolen love letters. Don Pedro triumphs as Beatrice and Benedict, now married, end the opera with the words "today a truce is signed, we'll be enemies again tomorrow.”

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Cahn Auditorium


600 Emerson Street
Evanston, IL 60208
United States

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Cahn Auditorium is the largest performance space on campus, with more than 1,000 seats and an orchestra pit. The venue offers main floor and balcony seating. Larger Bienen School opera productions are held here.