Sunday, 20 October 2013

Rossini - Il Viaggio a Reims

Gioachino Rossini - Il Viaggio a Reims

Théâtre Musical de Paris, Châtelet, Paris - 2006

Valery Gergiev, Alain Maratrat, Larissa Youdina, Danil Shtoda, Anastasia Belyaeva, Irma Guigolachvili, Edouard Tsango, Anna Kiknadze, Dmitri Voropaev, Alexei Safiouline, Vladislav Ouspenski, Nikolai Kamenski, Andrei Iliouchnikov, Elena Sommer, Olga Kitchenko, Pavel Chmoulevitch, Alexei Tannovistski

SkyArts 2 HD

Composing for some of the best singers of his time, Rossini never really did opera houses of the future any favours when it comes to casting for some of the most demanding roles in the repertoire. He certainly wasn't thinking that far ahead when it came to writing Il Viaggio a Reims, his final Italian opera before his move to Paris. Composed for the Coronation of Charles X in 1825, the work was indeed written specifically for the occasion, Rossini afterwards reusing much of the music for Le Comte Ory. Il Viaggio a Reims is therefore a considerable challenge for any opera company since it not only requires no less than 14 soloists of exceptional quality, but its throwaway subject also makes it difficult to stage dramatically. Both those considerable challenges are undertaken with some measure of success by the Théâtre Musical de Paris at the Châtelet in Paris in conjunction with the Academy of Young Singers of the Mariinsky Theatre of St Petersburg.

The Golden Lily spa hotel at Plombière-les-Bains is a fairly swanky one in the Châtelet's 2006 production. Not only is it tastefully lit and brightly decorated, not only are the employees smartly attired, but they have their very own orchestra playing in the background, conducted by Valery Gergiev no less, who cuts quite a dashing figure himself as he skips lightly around on the podium in his homburg hat. With the orchestra and the conductor up on the stage there's no orchestra pit then, leaving room for platforms to extend out into the Théâtre du Châtelet and for the singers to interact directly with the audience. Bright, colourful, stylish and engaging, that's the main attraction of this production, and it matches perfectly the orchestration that does indeed skip nimbly through some of Rossini's most inventive and delightful arrangements.

Staging Il Viaggio a Reims is undoubtedly a bit of a challenge, as indeed is staging any Rossini comedy where the plots can more often than not be a little ridiculous. Il Viaggio a Reims in particular is rather thin on dramatic developments. It revolves around the various wardrobe mishaps, romantic misadventures and cultural misunderstandings that take place between the assembled international array of guests staying at the spa hotel for the Coronation of Charles X. Writing for 14 soloists however, Rossini is less concerned with plot than in the richness of musical opportunity that the structure presents. The composer seems to relish the opportunity to break from the traditional structure and playfully puts his considerable skills to great use in duets, ensembles, a cappella arrangements, and delightful solo flute and harp sections.

Arias are in abundance also and the international character of the work is played upon in several pieces. Don Profundo considers the luggage requirements and packing habits of various nationalities in one aria, but each of the characters are given their own solo or (in the case of couples) duet opportunities to represent their countries for the entertainment and enlightenment of the other guests. With Rossini's sense of melody at its best there's nothing too taxing on the audience here, but it presents considerable challenges for the singers. Individually, the voices of the Mariinsky's Academy of Young Singers are outstanding, bringing the necessary freshness and verve that is required, but they also deal with the technical demands of the arias and bring considerable colour to a masterful sextet that is as close as Rossini comes to the brilliance of his inspiration in Mozart. The closing ensemble for fourteen voices and chorus is also suitably invigorating and dazzling, emphasising that this is a true ensemble work.

That's fully recognised in the production as it is directed by Alain Maratrat and conducted by Valery Gergiev. It's not The Marriage of Figaro perhaps, but it wasn't meant to be either. The plot is pointless and throwaway, but Rossini's music is gorgeous, and the staging allows its qualities to thrive without ever having to resort to caricature, which would be all too easy in this work. With little of real dramatic substance to work with, the cast wander around on the platforms off the stage and take the work right out into the theatre with no greater purpose than to entertain the French audience with the work's patriotic sentiments of national diversity and cries of Viva la Francia!  The reactions of the audience - well documented on camera - attest to just how well that is achieved.