Il Viaggio a Reims

Reviewer rating

Il Viaggio a Reims, Rossini’s last Italian opera (writing in French thereafter), composed for 14 solo voices, premiered in 1825, for Charles X’s coronation, to promote love, peace, and also Rossini’s French reputation! Viaggio was a showcase for 10 star singers, hence it’s difficulty, and includes rarely-heard octets, nonets and decets. It was intended to be used just once (although Rossini allowed four performances) recycling much of the music for Le Comte Ory.

Claudio Abbado revived it for the Rossini Opera Festival in Pesaro, Rossini’s birthplace, in 1984, after over 100 years since the first performance, using 10 singers – three prima donna sopranos, a contralto, two tenors, two baritones and two basses plus secondary roles. Every August, the Festival stages Viaggio as a summer showcase for the next generation of bel canto singers in Pesaro.

With the vocal bar being set so high, (thus rarely performed), I was intrigued to see what English Touring Opera would do. Despite the high bar, English Touring Opera do a great job, it is wonderful music, good production and costumes, such fun (Rossini was the master of comedy), and, despite my reservations with some of the singers, it would be a pity to miss if you have a chance to see it.

A ridiculous plot but great music. A group of European tourists, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Polish, Russian, lords, military, are stranded in a French spa hotel, the Golden Lily (the symbol of French royalty), on the way to Charles X’s coronation in Reims. As all the horses for sale or hire were booked up, they can’t get to Reims. They sort out lover’s tiffs and have a party instead.

The conductor, Jonathon Peter Kenny, is exuberant, joyful, and entries clear for the singers, brings out the musical fun.

Susan Hurrell as Corinna has a light voice, but sings her very tricky music, mainly accompanied by a harp, extremely well. Though why she shut herself in a golden cage at the end, I have no idea!

Esme Bronwen-Smith as Marchesa Melibea, the mezzo pursued by a tenor and a baritone (only mentioned as it is always sopranos who get this kind of attention) sings her difficult aria very well.

Luci Brigenshaw as the Contessa di Folleville, does brilliantly in the funny scene with her difficult music where she nearly dies hearing her luggage is lost, but revives when the tiniest hat is found.

The other ladies are also excellent.

There is one aria from Viaggio which might be familiar – Don Profondo’s ‘medaglie incomparabili’, the patter song. Whilst sorting out everyone’s luggage, Profondo should sing the verses in the accent of the luggage owners. Bass Timothy Dawkins as Profondo, went out of sync with the orchestra at one point and only did the British accent – no attempt at French, Russian, German, which this aria really needs. This should be a tour de force:  the humour lies in the accents.  Viaggio is going on tour; there is time to get it right, so I hope Dawkins nails it.

Bass Edward Hawkins as Lord Sidney doesn’t support his voice well enough to sustain the coloratura passages.

Baritones Jean-Kristof Bouton as Alvaro and Grant Doyle as Trombonok are excellent. Bouton is a young singer with a lovely voice, hopefully we shall hear more of him.

Tenors are a rare breed thus the hardest to find. Julian Henao Gonzalez as Libenskopf has light agreeable voice although the odd top note is strangely produced. However, Richard Dowling as Belfiore has much work to do.  With inadequate support, it was more coloratura approximatura than coloratura and the voice is not pleasing.

Viaggio ends with the whole cast, symbolically representing all European countries, Russia included, hoping for rebirth of peace and unity among nations. Oh, that this were true!