, July 2010
In Il viaggio a Reims, a number of illustrious guests from across Europe gather at the spa-inn of Reims’s Golden Lily, a waystop to the coronation of Charles X of France. They while away the time, introducing themselves and promoting their individual love affairs, until a message arrives that there are no horses available. Amid the general horror, the proprietress, Madame Cortese, receives a letter from her husband that mentions the festivities will continue in Paris for all those who couldn’t make it to the coronation. The Contessa di Folleville generously offers her estate there for use, and everybody celebrates by spending the funds meant for the rest of the original journey on a sumptuous banquet. The work ends with all present toasting Charles X—not surprisingly, as this opera was part of his coronation celebrations, in 1825 at Paris’s Théâtre Italien.
As a libretto, Il viaggio isn’t quite the masterpiece of satire that its modern supporters have made out. The stereotypes of different European nationalities paraded before our eyes are diplomatically filed down to the point where the worst they can show us about the Russian is that he’s emotional, that the Frenchwoman is obsessed with fashion, that the German likes counterpoint and harmony, etc. Nor do the series of solo arias and wooing duets between aristocrats really amount to great good fun, except insofar as Rossini provides them with his wittiest and most lyrical music, much of the time. The composer poured magnificent invention into this, his final Italian opera.
These performers are for the most part all one could wish for, given the unusual number of important roles in this work, and they are on average decidedly better than the cast assembled for the 2005 Châtelet performance on Opus Arte 0967. Merced, Rasmussen, and Cantarero are all in excellent form, as is Bayo, save for a tendency to flat slightly on her top notes. If Orfila and Òdena are wooly-toned, Dara makes a delightfully buffo Barone di Trombonok. Among the tenors, Bros supplies stylish Italianate phrasing, and Tarver has all the fireworks and coloratura one could wish for, save for a few stratospheric notes. The large chorus and secondary parts are more than adequately filled.
Sergei Belbel’s stage direction is perhaps the best thing in this production, and definitely the worst. It’s the best when he remembers that his role is to find imaginative solutions to making the intentions of Rossini and his librettist, Luigi Balocchi, work. As a creative facilitator, Belbel unsubtly but amusingly underscores several of the most important elements in the opera, such as the slavish regard paid by all to Corinna, the Roman poet, intended to symbolize the Roman Catholic Church. Blocking in general is done well, and the entire cast acts competently. Javier Artiñano’s costumes, with their broad use of national colors, follows Belbel’s lead. The marble staircase, the many Doric columns, and the bathing pools, set against a featureless backdrop, produce a sense of a world divorced from care, where the rich and powerful can play out their emotional games without a thought for anything else…The camerawork is varied and good, the chorus and orchestra, excellent. Jesús López-Cobos isn’t the last word in excitement or clarity, but he holds together Rossini’s “Gran pezzo concertato a 14 voci,” the most complex piece in Il viaggio, with the skill of a veteran. The picture format is 16:9, Dolby Digital 2.0 and 5.1 furnishing sound. Subtitles are supplied in English, German, French, Spanish, Italian, and Catalan.