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Gioachino ROSSINI (1792-1868)
Il Viaggio A Rheims - dramma giocoso in one act (1825)
rec. live, Königliches Kurtheater, Bad Wildbad, Germany, 8, 10, 12 July 2014, 26th Bad Wildbad Festival
NAXOS 8.660382-84 [3 CDs: 54.51 + 48.07 + 53.51]

Long thought lost, the story of the re-emergence of Il Viaggio a Reims in 1984 is worth recounting as a start to any review. In 1823, having severed all connections with Naples and having visited and worked in London and sang with the King, Rossini was appointed Director of the Théâtre Italien in Paris. His contract required him to present productions of his own works, and those of other composers, as well as writing new works, in French, for presentation at The Opéra (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. However, 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 as France, fully recovered from Napoleonic Republicanism and Empire status, returned to a second Bourbon King and trifled again with monarchy. Called Il viaggio a Reims, it was composed to an Italian libretto and presented at the Théâtre Italien on 19 June that year. 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. However, 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 and written, as required, to a French language libretto. The proper cataloguing of archive material in the possession of opera houses and museums in the 1970s coincided with musicological research by Elisabeth Bartlet, the French opera scholar, and the Rossini specialist Philip Gossett. They traced original material from Il viaggio a Reims in Paris, Vienna and Rome. Together with readily available scores of Le Comte Ory this facilitated a critical edition of the lost opera to be presented, with a cast of internationally renowned singers, at the Pesaro Rossini Festival in 1984. This story is outlined in the booklet of the original issue of the associated DG recording under Abbado and its mid-priced re-issue (review). More details of the fascinating story of the rediscovery of this wonderful Rossini score are to be found in Philip Gossett’s book Divas and Scholars (Chicago, 2006). Subsequent musicological work by Elisabeth Bartlet has allowed this current critical edition to include music not discovered until after that recording was made. Other, brief, non-Rossini intrusions as were included in the earlier recording are avoided here with all recitatives included together with two short sections of ballet music in the final variations of the theme Vive Henri IV.

The opera plot, if it can be called that, makes a parody of the stereotypes of the persons of 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 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. This ends with an improvisation of five stanzas by Corinna to the new King after which come the short dances, toasts to the king. The the guests then sing a final vivat to the glory of France.

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, knowing his or her vocal strengths intimately, wrote accordingly. 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 then 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 being native Italians. All were well versed in the Rossini idiom and were among the leaders in Italian opera performances during the Rossini revival of the previous decade. That said, by the time of the recording, many had moved on to heavier, more dramatic roles, rather than comic ones. In contrast, this performance from the Bad Wildbad Festival in 2014 differs in that the singers are mostly either still active in the Rossini fach or are young singers, often from Eastern Europe, beginning to make their way in the profession. All of them are appropriately and flexibly voiced with the basses being sonorous as required. They provide vocal embellishments as are appropriate in style and help keep the vivacity and humour to the forefront, under Antonino Fogliani’s flexible and idiomatic baton. It is just a pity that at the bargain price it is not possible to provide a full libretto and translation for full appreciation. For those who own the earlier DG recording it is easy to follow that libretto whilst allowing the listener easily to pick up the extra music involved as well as that not belonging to Rossini.

Whilst I greatly enjoy the DG recording and its all-star cast, I was pleasantly surprised at how much enjoyment I had in playing this Bad Wildbad version. Taken from live performances, there are intrusions of applause, but these are not excessive whilst the overall recording quality has clarity with only rare loss of vocal focus. It is invidious to pick out individuals in what is a first class team effort. However, I was pleased to realise that when Ewa Podles eventually hangs up her vocal chords the Italian contralto fach will be blessed by the presence of Marianna Pizzolato. Likewise, not all will be lost when tenors Juan Diego Florez and Michael Spyres move on. The light and flexible-voiced tenors included here are idiomatic and pleasant and easy on the ear without strain or reediness of tone.

As usual with Naxos opera recordings the accompanying leaflet includes a track-notated synopsis in English, French and German as well as full track-listing and timings. A brief informative essay by Reto Müller gives some historical perspectives as well as a brief recent performance history, again in the three languages. Most welcome also are brief singer biographies, but in English only.

Robert J Farr

Performance details

Madame Cortese, the Tyrolean owner of the Golden Lily Inn - Alessandra Marianelli (soprano); Baron Von Trombonok, a German aristocrat and music-lover - Bruno Praticò, (bass); Contessa de Folleville, a widow and Parisian lady of fashion - Sofia Mchedlishvili (soprano); Count Libenskof, a Russian General in love with Marchesa Melibea - Maxim Mironov (tenor); Marchesa Melibea, a young Polish widow - Marianna Pizzolato (alto); Don Alvaro, a Spanish admiral - Gezim Myshketa (bass); Corinna, a poetess from Rome - Laura Giordano (soprano); Belfiore, a young French chevalier in pursuit of Contessa de Folleville - Bogdan Mihai (tenor); Modestina, her maid - Annalisa D’Agosto (mezzo); Lord Sidney, an English aristocrat in love with Corina - Mirco Palazzi (bass); Don Profondo, an antique collector - Bruno De Simone (buffo bass); Maddalena, the housekeeper - Olesya Berman Chuprinova (mezzo); Don Prudenzio, a spoof doctor and buffoon - Baurzhan Anderzhanov (bass); Don Luigino, cousin of Contessa de Folleville - Carlos Cardosa (tenor); Antonio, Maitre d’hotel - Lucas Samoza Osterc (bass)
Camerata Bach Choir, Poznan
Virtuoso Brunensis/Antonino Fogliani
Performed in the Critical Edition by M Elizabeth Bartlet



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