ROSSINI: Il Viaggio a Reims

Having just
arrived in Paris (lured from Naples by a huge stipend), he wanted to convince the powers that be,
from King Charles to the opera-goer in the street, that he was an excellent investment. In fact,
after Charles’s downfall in 1830, he had to sue the next regime to keep his income, and he
stopped writing operas altogether.

Viaggio has no plot to speak of. An inn-full of aristocratic tourists heading for Reims for the
coronation are stranded (no horses) and decide to celebrate the event right where they are. We
follow a series of amorous intrigues combined with political in-jokes – the Russian count
suspects his Polish marchesa, but the Austrian baron (a student of harmony) reconciles these
lovers; the English milord conceals his passion for the Roman chanteuse (that is, the possibility
that Britain might return to Catholicism), and the Parisian cares more about the safety of her
wardrobe than a lover’s doubtful fidelity.

But the stock political one-liners become delicious when turned into Rossini arias and duets.
(Why isn’t this guy writing for Saturday Night Live?) To everyone’s surprise (including, no
doubt, Rossini’s, wherever he is), Viaggio has lately become an international hit – perhaps
because it gives so many singers a chance to shine, however briefly. Its huge number of more or
less equal soloists makes Viaggio ideal for conservatories with bel canto studies – Rossini does
not damage immature voices, as Wagner or Verdi easily may. Too, any Viaggio gives costume
designers opportunities to be as silly as they like, and Mireille Dessingy has gone for it here:
purple stripes, leather dusters, crazy bustles and hats, plaid suits of outlandish hue. Behind the
action, Maestro Gergiev conducts “under cover” in a slouch hat and trench coat.

Though these performances were given at the Châtelet in Paris, the singers hail from the
Academy of Young Singers at St. Petersburg’s Mariinsky Theatre (aka Kirov), and since singers
from Russia’s many nationalities are nowadays flooding west, we may glimpse here some of the
stars of tomorrow. Gergiev clearly intends to train the next generation to a better feel for Italian
style than Russian singers used to have, and the results are commendable if imperfect: while few
of these youngsters screech or whine as older Russians often did, and their fioritura is often
superb, many of them run out of breath before their melodies do, and bark rather than conclude
the line musically. Most of them sing Italian clearly, though, all of them are agile comic actors,
and the Parisian audience is appreciative.

The most attractive and able voices belong to Anna Kiknadze as the Polish marchesa, whose low
mezzo, a ripe Rossini sound, resembles Borodina’s, Irma Guigolachvili’s gracious lyric
soprano as Corinna, Larissa Youdina’s flamboyant coloratura as the fashion-conscious Parisian,
Anastasia Belyaeva’s pleasing light soprano as the chic innkeeper, Daniil Shtoda’s exciting but
sometimes breathless tenor as the jealous Russian, and Alexei Safiouline’s castanetted “Spanish”

John Yohalem

image_description=Gioacchino Rossini: Il Viaggio a Reims
product_title=Gioacchino Rossini: Il Viaggio a Reims
product_by=Madame Cortese – Anastasia Belyaeva; Baron von Trombonok – Vladislav Ouspenski; Contessa di Folleville – Larissa Youdina; Count Libenskof – Daniil Shtoda; Marchesa Melibea – Anna Kiknadze; Don Alvaro – AlexeÔ Safiouline; Corinna – Irma Guigolachvili; Belfiore – Dmitry Voropaev; Modestina – Olga Kitchenko; Lord Sidney – Edouard Tsanga; Don Profondo – NikolaÔ Kamenski; Maddalena – Elena Sommer; Don Prudenzio – AlexeÔ Tanovitsky; Don Luigino – AndreÔ Iliouchnikov; Antonio – Pavel Chmoulevitch; The Academy of Young Singers of the St. Petersburg Mariinsky Theatre; The St. Petersburg Mariinsky Theatre Orchestra; Valery Gergiev, Conductor. Alain Maratrat, Stage Director.
Recorded live at Le Ch‚telet, Paris in December 2005
product_id=Opus Arte OA0967D [DVD]