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Gioachino ROSSINI (1792-1868)
Il Viaggio a Reims - dramma giocoso in one act (1825)
Madame Cortese, the Tyrolean owner of the Golden Lily Inn - Anastasia Belyaeva (sop); Baron Von Trombonok, a German aristocrat - Vladislav Ouspenski (bass); Contessa de Flolleville, a Parisian lady of fashion - Larissa Youdina (sop); Count Libenskof, a Russian General - Daniil Shtoda (ten); Marchesa Melibea, a young Polish widow - Anna Kiknadze (mezzo); Don Alvaro, a Spanish admiral - Alexei Safiouline (bar); Corinna, a poetess from Rome - Irma Guigolachvili (sop); Belfiore, a young French chevalier - Dmitri Voropaev ( ten); Modestina - Olga Kitchenko (mezzo); Lord Sidney, and English aristocrat in love with Corina - Edouard Tsanga (bass); Don Profondo, an antique collector - Nikolai Kamenski (buffo bass); Maddalena, the housekeeper - Elena Sommer (sop); Don Prudenzio, a spoof doctor and buffoon - Alexei Tannovistski (bass); Don Luigino, cousin of Contessa de Folleville - Andrei Illiouchnikov; Antonio, Maître d’hôtel - Pavel Chmoulevitch
Chorus and Orchestra of the Mariinsky Theatre St. Petersburg/Valery Gergiev
A co-production of the Mariinsky Theatre St. Petersburg and the Théâtre du Châtelet, Paris.
rec. live, Théâtre du Châtelet 10, 15, 17 December 2005.
Stage Director - Alain Maratrat; Set Designer - Pierre Alain Bertola; Costume Designer - Mireille Dessingey
Picture format: 16/9 Anamorphic. Sound formats: LPCM Stereo. DTS surround
Subtitles in English, German, French, Spanish, Italian (original language)
OPUS ARTE OA0967D [135:00]

Rossini’s last opera seria under his contract with Barbaja in Naples was Zelmira. It was premiered on 16 February 1822. Following that premiere Rossini and Isabella Colbran his mistress and renowned coloratura soprano went to Vienna with Barbaja’s company to present a season built around the composer’s works. Although Barbaja hoped that Rossini would return to Naples the composer was angling for an appointment in either London or Paris. His reputation was such that after the season in Venice he was invited by Prince Metternich to attend and compose for the Congress of Verona. During several weeks stay he was introduced to the Austrian Emperor, the Tsar and the Duke of Wellington and composed five cantatas. From Verona, Rossini and Colbran, now his wife, journeyed to Venice to present a new opera, Semiramide, for which his fee was an unprecedented five thousand francs. It was premiered in February 1823 and was a great success.
In the summer of 1823 Rossini and Colbran travelled to London via Paris where the composer was fêted and began negotiating about future work. In London he presented several of his operas and earned considerable remuneration by singing and playing at musical occasions organised by English aristocracy. In Brighton where the Court was in session he sang duets with the King. On his return to Paris the composer was appointed Director of the Théâtre Italien. His contract required him to present productions of his own works, and that of other composers, as well as writing new works in French for presentation at The Opéra (The Théâtre de l’Académie Royale de Musique). The works in French were a little slow in coming, as Rossini needed to grapple with the prosody of the language and re-align his own compositional style towards that of his new hosts.
First on his agenda was the unavoidable duty of an opera to celebrate the coronation of Charles X in Reims Cathedral in June 1825. Called Il viaggio à Reims it was composed to an Italian libretto and presented at the Théâtre Italien on 19 June 1825. It was hugely successful in three sold-out performances after which Rossini withdrew it, considering it purely a pièce d’occasion. He later reused nine of the numbers in Le Comte Ory, and Il viaggio became lost for nearly 150 years until scholarly research in the 1980s found missing numbers in the Santa Cecilia in Rome. By adding these parts to those found in Paris and Vienna, Philip Gossett produced the edition presented at the Pesaro Festival in 1984 with an all-star cast. DG engineers combined the best of the Pesaro performances to give an outstandingly sung and recorded audio issue conducted by Claudio Abbado (414 498-2). This re-introduced the opera to the world.
The opera plot makes a parody of the stereotypes of the various nationalities who become stranded, through lack of horses, at the Golden Lily Inn on their way to the Coronation of Carlos in Reims. The complicated plot involves secret love, a bit of two-timing by the tenor, a challenge to a duel and an agreement to spend the money saved by their aborted journey on a grand banquet. The final scene is a divertissement to celebrate harmony, each guest singing a song from his or her own country. This ends with an improvisation by Corinna on the new King and the guests sing a final tribute to the glory of France. I strongly recommend watching the illustrated synopsis so as to get a good grip on who is who before embarking on the whole.
This co-production in modern dress and minimal props involves young singers from the Academy of the Mariinsky Theatre. This establishment is no first base singer-training conservatory; rather it is arguably the best opera singers’ finishing school in the world. Graduates from this source are to be heard at the very best addresses and already some appearing in this performance have burgeoning professional careers. As well as vocal training of high sophistication, the young singers learn to become excellent actors too. This combination of secure vocal achievement allied to consummate acting involvement is what is required to bring off Il Viaggio a Reims’ rather zany story-line in what is Rossini’s last opera to an Italian text.
The set for this co-production at the Théâtre du Châtelet is of the simplest. The orchestra is seated to the rear of the stage with the singers in front. There are extended walkways into the front rows of the stalls. This is very reminiscent of the staging of the John Eliot Gardiner-conducted Falstaff that I caught at the theatre six or so years ago. On that occasion the lithe movements and acting ability of Juan Diego Florez as Fenton were a highlight of a good all-round performance. On this occasion there are several excellent performances to mention. First are the dazzling soprano performances of Anastasia Belyaeva as Madame Cortese and Larissa Youdina as Contessa de Flolleville who not only scales the vocal stratosphere with ease but also carries off the role’s changes of haute couture with aplomb and elegance. The Corinna of Irma Guigolachvili is not of this standard vocally, with an uncertain trill, (Chs 16 and 35) but she portrayed her part well. The wide ranging mezzo and appealing presence and acting of Anna Kiknadze as the sought-after Marchesa Melibea is also particularly worthy. As her suitor Count Libenskof, who had to do some pleading (Ch 29), is taken by Daniil Shtoda whose singing and acting are first rate. A big man he is physically imposing and his flexible tenor voice has much potential (Ch 32). So too has the lighter tenor of Dmitri Voropaev as Belfiore, the dashing French officer who pays court to Madame Flolleville (Ch 35). His voice, with a husky timbre, is more than a tenore di grazia, with a touch of metal in it. Like his colleague his career will be worth watching. The lower male voices are more variable. Edouard Tsanga’s Lord Sidney was somewhat lean of tone (Chs 19 and 34) whilst Nikolai Kamenski and Alexei Tannovistski fielded more substantial tone and colour.
The general ensemble singing of the participants, together with the chorus, is spot-on. Valery Gergiev, entered via the stall aisles with a coat draped over his shoulders and wearing a trilby. Whilst he discarded the former at the rostrum he wore the latter throughout. He wore the trilby throughout and, unusually for him he conducted with a baton as well. Whatever these quirks from his norm, the performance zipped along and his feel for Rossini gave more than a hint of strengths other than those with which he is normally associated.
Despite much stage movement, not often audibly intrusive, the sound is excellently clear, warm and well balanced. The diction of the singers has few signs of glottal accents. The audience applause is not too intrusive, nor are their faces shown too frequently. In all respects the DVD direction of Vincent Bataillon is commendable. The booklet has a brief informative essay and synopsis as well as coloured photographs from the performance. I have not seen the DVD of the 2003 performance at Barcelona’s Grand Liceu which included José Bros as Belfiore and Maria Bayo as Madame Cortese (TDK DV-OPVAR). Jesus Lopez-Cobos conducting on his debut in the theatre was widely admired, but he would have been hard pressed to better Gergiev in this performance. Add the sparkling ensemble and overall quality of singing and this new issue must be at least a keen competitor.
Robert J Farr
see also the Rossini Opera Conspectus


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