Il Viaggio a Monte Carlo
11/21/2005 - and 23*, 25, 27 November 2005
Gioacchino Rossini : Il Viaggio a Reims
Inva Mula (Corinna), Sara Mingardo (Melibea), Patrizia Ciofi (La Comtesse de Folleville), June Anderson (Madame Cortese), Raùl Gimenez (Belfiore), Rockwell Blake (Libenskof), Marco Vinco (Lord Sydney), Ruggero Raimondi (Don Profundo), Filippo Morace (Le Baron de Trombonok), Manuel Lanza (Don Alvaro), Balint Szabo (Don Prudenzio), Martial Defontaine ( Don Luigino), Delphine Gillot (Delia), Oana Andra (Maddalena), Cornelia Oncioiu (Modestina), David Alegret (Zefirino), Enrico Marabelli ( Antonio).
Monte Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra, Chorus of the Opera, Maurizio Benini (Conductor)
Pier Luigi Pizzi (Direction, sets and costumes), Sergio Rossi (Lights)
Another proof of Gioacchino Rossini’s ironical foresight?
The Maestro concocted this story of a group of upper class Europeans travelling to the coronation of the new French King in Reims, but then missing the event. Almost 2 centuries later, his farce is taking place again, the same characters embark on the voyage and … they miss the coronation of the new Prince of Monaco, which took place a few days earlier!
Is Il Viaggio a Reims becoming a hilarious Viaggio e Soggiorno a Monte Carlo ? Yes indeed, here the opera is turning into a memorable triumph. Rossini’s dramma giocoso had been selected for the reopening of the historic landmark, Monaco’s Garnier Opera, after 3 years of renovation. It is once again a gorgeous theatre, intimate, ornate, overflowing with statues, gilded stucco and period frescoes, ready for more brilliant seasons.
Already at the apex of his fame, Rossini initiated his career in France with a demonstration of flair and gusto: his new opera was to mark an occasion, to provide entertainment for the 1825 coronation of Charles X of France. Consequently, after four Parisian performances, he decided to withdraw it from the stage. In 1828 the composer cannibalized it, using its better moments in Le Comte Ory. Il Viaggio’s score all but disappeared and was only rediscovered two decades ago, in a memorable revival at Pesaro -the yearly Rossini Festival- and at La Scala, driven by the magnificent team Abbado/Ronconi and with a legendary cast. Its musical flamboyance was immediately recognised. However, due to the difficulty and cost of gathering 17 soloists, Il Viaggio à Reims merely remained an entry in Opera dictionaries.
It now seems that the pace is changing, over the last 2-3 years many opera houses (Helsinki, Frankfurt, Chicago, Madrid, New York, Bern, Genoa…) have revived it. Out of those, the most stunning was probably a 2003 adaptation by Dario Fo, who changed two thirds of the text without altering a single note, in order to modernize the satire. In 2005 alone, we have been able to identify at least 7 new productions in major Opera Houses. Will it be the Barbiere di Siviglia of the 21st century ?
The libretto is fairly simple. It takes place at the “The Golden Lily” inn located in a spa. We are introduced to a handful of stereotypes, aristocrats and literati, a delicate young poetess, an extravagant French contessa, a romantic Polish widow, a blundering Englishman, a passionate Russian, a fierce Spaniard, a stout German army Major… They are waiting for the arrival of horses which will pull their coaches to Reims, for the royal ceremony. Romances, jealousies, nationalism, mixed with other trivial pursuits, become the subject of the opera. Finally, when it is found that no horses are, in fact, available, they all opt to travel to Paris after staging their own joyful celebration.
Altogether, Il Viaggio is a brilliant, inventive opus: full of deeply felt or pyrotechnical arias, and, as always, with intricate, virtuoso ensembles. Among those frothy delights we should highlight the sextet “A tali accenti, in seno”, which is likely to be the best scenic ending of Rossini’s production. Above all, the vast concertato piece with 14 voices “A tal colpo inaspettato” which leads all singers to join in, practice counterpoint and virtuosity, everybody following a quaternary rhythm close to perfection. Fabulous Rossini! He was able to weave arias with the same high degree of emotion, about love, about the “glorious” king, and about lost luggage! Between the lines, wouldn’t that be a subversive political statement?
Pier Luigi Pizzi’s production is exactly what we might expect from this renowned aesthete: classicism, elegance, intelligibility, a real joy for the eyes in terms of colours and stage set architecture. The division of the stage into one central part, like a church nave, and two side aisles, all being oriented toward the audience, is perfect to link characters, create both expectations and space between singers, chorus and actors. No provoking, no transposition in a non-descript period, we are in 1825, the goal is to have the cast sing, not to satisfy the director’s ego. Bravissimo. Maurizio Benini, one of Pizzi’s faithful compare (they gave a Rossini trilogy in the same theatre 5 years ago), conducts with a definite spirit for this musical carrousel.
Obviously, the vocal cast is what is most important, knowing the limited intrigue of this opera-like cantata, a work which was composed having in mind the most celebrated divas of the time, like Giuditta Pasta. In Monaco, the cast was royal. Oh! sorry, princely !
It would be fastidious to mention everyone here. First, it should be noted that two of the original “survivors” of the mythical Pesaro revival were present: Rockwell Blake and Ruggero Raimondi. Twenty one years later we could reasonably expect some degradation, however experience, technique and superior acting made up for their faltering voices : Blake, as the Russian Count Libenskof, barks his parts with humour (ah ! his carnivorous smile when courting the Polish widow, … another subversive wink) and what a talent for throwing the rhythmic impulses of the ensembles ! Raimondi, a masterly Don Profundo, the deus ex machine of the comedy, still has no peer for articulating and mimicking the famous repertory of European nationals “Medaglie incomparabili”. It is touching to see those two veterans passing the flame to the younger generation. Marco Vinco is a remarkably powerful English Lord, as is Raùl Gimenez impersonating the French lover Belfiore : an Italian playing an Englishman and an Argentinean a Frenchman, another magic feat of opera !
The international quartet of leading ladies was almost faultless, June Anderson as Madama Cortese, radiant and still eager to push her pitch to summits ; Inva Mula, a beautiful Corinna, with an impressive projection, a flexible coloratura (although somewhat lacking bright colours) ; Patrizia Ciofi, overplaying and vocalising the featherbrained Folleville diva in a delectable buffa style. Finally, probably the most beautiful voice of all, Sara Mingardo, a gem of a contralto, as the sensitive Melibea. At the end of this voyage, it would seem difficult to foresee a superb cast like this one in the future.
Did the audience appreciate it? The delirium was in the theatre as well as on the stage.