Gioachino ROSSINI (1792-1868)
Il Viaggio a Reims - Comic Opera in One Act (1825) [164:00]
Corinna – Elena de la Merced (soprano); La Marchesa Melibea – Paula Rasmussen (mezzo); La Contessa di Folleville – Mariola Cantarero (soprano); Madama Cortese – Maria Bayo (soprano); Il Cavaliere Belfiore – Josep Bros (tenor); Il Conte di Liberskof – Kenneth Tarver (tenor); Lord Sidney – Simon Orfila (bass); Don Profondo – Nicola Ulivieri (bass); Il Barone di Trombonok – Enzo Dara (bass); Don Alvaro – Angel Odena (baritone); Don Prudenzio – Stephen Morscheck (baritone); Don Luigino – Josep Ruiz (tenor); Della – Claudia Schneider (mezzo); Maddalena – Mirela Pintó (soprano); Modestina – Mercè Obiol (mezzo); Zefirino – David Alegret (tenor); Antonio – Alex Sanmarti (baritone); Gelsomino – Jordi Casanova (tenor)
Symphony Orchestra and Chorus of the Gran Teatre del Liceu/Jesús López-Cobos
Stage Director – Sergei Belbel; Video director – Roni Bargalló
rec. filmed, live, Gran Teatre del Liceu, Barcelona, March 2003
Sound format – Dolby Digital 2.0 and 5.1
Subtitles in English, German, French, Spanish, Italian, Catalan
Picture format 16:9; Region Code 0
no text or translation included
ARTHAUS MUSIK 107 135 [164:00]
Il Viaggio a Reims was the first opera that Rossini wrote in Paris. It was written in Italian; not French. In that respect it is unlike the remaining four operas that he wrote for that city - for the Théâtre-Italien. It was intended very much as an occasional piece for the Coronation of Charles X in 1825. Accordingly it requires extravagant vocal resources, with parts for no less than ten principals as well as many minor parts, chorus, ballet and orchestra. Rossini allowed only a very small number of performances and went on to reuse much of the material in Le Comte Ory in 1828. Reconstruction from a variety of manuscripts in the 1970s and 1980s led to its first modern performances in Pesaro in 1984. Those performances were recorded, as were later performances in Berlin, in both cases under Claudio Abbado.
The plot, such as it is, concerns a group of travellers on their way to the coronation. They stay at an inn overnight. The first part of the opera relates their various loves, losses (of hearts and luggage) and other concerns. They then discover that horses are not available to take them to Rheims and decide instead to go directly to Paris after a public entertainment they give which forms the finale to the opera. This involves each of the guests offering a musical tribute to the King in their own national style. The production on this disc transfers the action to a spa hotel, with the tone set straightaway at the start when the conductor descends to the pit from the stage as if entering a swimming pool. Various baths and water treatments are indeed used as the background to the bulk of the action in the first part of the production. Entertaining as this can be, it does not get around the essential problem for the producer of very long musical numbers which require considerable virtuosity to perform. Neither the plot nor the music seem to need the addition of movement. At times a sort of desperation creeps in with the producer seeing a need for action but which makes less and less impact. Despite this, the handsome costumes and set, and the generally good-humoured atmosphere are appealing and do not contradict or get in the way of the music. An interval is inserted about two-thirds of the way through, presumably for the comfort of performers and audience. It is placed just after what was later to emerge as the Act 1 finale to Le Comte Ory and does no great harm. The final section of the opera allows the producer to project his view that the opera is “a mockery – light-hearted but heavy with meaning – of the ruins of our highly celebrated, eccentric, absurd and contradictory Europe ...”. He regards the guests as representing a reactionary civilisation which ignores the changes that are taking place before it. Maybe that is so, but - fortunately, perhaps - he does not make too much of this. The video director makes even less of it by allowing the final action, in which the lower orders – the strolling players – take over the seats of the wealthy guests, to be virtually ignored by the camera. I am grateful for this, as it is hard to attach any real significance to the long-winded antics and feeble plot of this occasional piece. It is essentially a peg on which Rossini hung some of his very best music. Heretically I believe that this music appears to superior effect in Le Comte Ory where the plot and music fit together more snugly. The former is much more interesting and better constructed, with more interesting characters and action. Admittedly the music is at times altered to its detriment, but overall it surely works better in the theatre.
It is nonetheless of absorbing interest to see and hear so much magnificent music in its original context, and with only minimal producer’s license being exercised. Admittedly if you want to hear it sung and played to its fullest effect then either of Abbado’s audio recordings would be a preferred option. The singing there is for the most part much more satisfactory. Of the principals in the present performance Elena de la Merced is superb as the improvising singer, Corinna. Her two long solos are crucial turning points; very much a plus. Enzo Dara appears also in both of Abbado’s recordings, so that it is no surprise that he is fully at home with the music. He also makes the most of what could have been a very tiresome characterisation as a standard comic German with a Hitler moustache. For the rest, given the large number of principal parts the standard is high. Only Kenneth Tarver’s unstylish and strained Libenskorf is a real disappointment. None however stands out as they do in the array of stars gathered for the audio versions. The orchestra, including flute and harp soloists who appear on stage, play in a stylish and lively manner under Jesús López-Cobos. Their contribution is a major part of the listener’s enjoyment. The booklet contains a brief synopsis and a long and far from clear essay by the producer but no information about the singers.
For all my comments on the production there is much to be said for this recording which gives a fair representation of one of Rossini’s most extraordinary concoctions.
John Sheppard
There is much to be said for this. It gives a fair representation of one of Rossini’s most extraordinary concoctions.