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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 - Katia Ricciarelli (soprano); Baron Von Trombonok, a German aristocrat and lover of music - Enzo Dara (bass); Contessa de Folleville, a widowed Parisian lady of fashion - Lella Cuberli (soprano); Count Libenskof, a Russian General in love with Marchesa Melibea - Francisco Araiza (tenor); Marchesa Melibea, a young Polish widow - Lucia Valentini Terrani (contralto); Don Alvaro, a Spanish admiral also in love with Marchesa Melibea - Leo Nucci (baritone); Corinna, a poetess from Rome - Cecilia Gasdia (sop); Belfiore, a young French chevalier who pays court to all the ladies - Edoardo Gimenez (tenor); Modestina, a shy chambermaid - Bernadette Manca Di Nissa (mezzo); Lord Sidney, an English aristocrat in love with Corina - Samuel Ramey (bass); Don Profondo, an antique collector and man of letters - Ruggero Raimondi (buffo bass); Maddalena, the housekeeper - Raquel Pierotti (soprano); Don Prudenzio, a spoof doctor and buffoon - Giorgio Surjan (bass); Don Luigino, cousin of Contessa de Folleville – Ernesto Gavazzi
Prague Philharmonic Chorus/Lubomir Matl
The Chamber Orchestra of Europe/Claudio Abbado
rec. live, Rossini Opera Festival, Pesaro, Italy, August 1984
Performed in the Critical Edition by Janet Johnson
Experience Classicsonline

In my recent review of Verdi’s Stiffelio, I recounted how the score of the opera, missing for over a century, was reassembled from various sources and received its first performance in a major house. The story of the re-emergence of Il Viaggio a Reims is not without many similarities and is worth recounting.
In 1823 having severed all connections with Naples and having visited and worked in London, Rossini was appointed Director of the Théâtre Italien in Paris. 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 host.
First on Rossini’s 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. The score was subsequently believed to be lost. Never one to let good music and tunes go to waste, Rossini reused nine of the numbers in Le Comte Ory premiered at The Opéra in 1828. The proper cataloguing of archive material in the possession of opera houses and museums in the 1970s coincided with musicological research by Elisabeth Bartlett and the Rossini scholar Philip Gossett. The latter traced original material from Il viaggio à Reims in Paris, Vienna and Rome. Together with readily available scores of Le Comte Ory they allowed a Critical Edition to be presented with a magnificent cast at the Pesaro Festival in 1984. A résumé of the story is given in an excerpt from the original issue in this new mid-price Grand Prix edition. More details of the fascinating story of the rediscovery of this wonderful score are to be found in Philip Gossett’s book Divas and Scholars (Chicago, 2006).
The opera plot, if it can be called that, makes a parody of stereotypes of various nationalities who become stranded, through lack of horses, at the Golden Lily Inn on their way to the Coronation of Charles in Reims. The complications of the plot involve secret love, a bit of two timing by a 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 (CD 2 trs.11-21). This ends with an improvisation by Corinna on the new King (tr.20) and the guests sing a final tribute to the glory of France (tr.21).
The occasion of the Coronation determined the musical forces Rossini had at his disposal. Every important singer at the Théâtre Italien participated and the composer drew on his or her strengths. There are roles for three prima donna sopranos, a contralto, two tenors, four baritones and basses, as well as several comprimario parts. As Gossett writes, knowing each of his singers to be a master of Italian vocal style, Rossini allowed his writing to luxuriate in their abilities. The circumstances of this first production of the newly reconstructed score at Pesaro in 1984, including the presence of Abbado and the proposed recording, brought together a similar level of luxury casting. The cast of principals included one American, a couple of Spanish speakers with the rest native Italians. All were well versed in the Rossini idiom and were among the leaders in Italian opera performances of the day. They constitute a cast of an altogether rare, even unique, quality. Some of the soloists had been regular performers at the Rossini Opera Festival at Pesaro since its inception in 1980. Others would become so. Perhaps the only name of note missing is that of the American Marilyn Horne. DG engineers combined the best of the series of the Pesaro performances to produce an outstandingly sung and recorded audio issue that re-introduced the opera to the world in 1985. The recording now re-appears at mid-price with full libretto and English translation. The essay extracts referred to by Janet Johnson, the author of the Critical Edition, and a synopsis, are given in English, German and French.
The goings-on in the Golden Lily Inn in Il viaggio à Reims are merely a vehicle for the cast to display their vocal prowess which they do on this recording with skill, verve and character. Add Abbado’s feel for the scintillating music and his drawing of playing of virtuosity from The Chamber Orchestra of Europe, an ensemble he did so much to promote, and the outcome is one of the best recordings of a Rossini opera ever set down.
Robert J Farr


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