About this Recording
8.660382-84 - ROSSINI, G.: Il viaggio a Reims [Opera] (L. Giordano, Pizzolato, Mchedlishvili, Poznań Camerata Bach Choir, Virtuosi Brunensis, Fogliani)
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Gioachino Rossini (1792–1868)


Il viaggio a Reims
ossia
L’albergo del Giglio d’Oro
(The Journey to Reims or The Inn of the Golden Fleur-de-lys)
Dramma giocoso in One Act
Libretto by Luigi Balochi, partly based on Corinne, ou L’Italie by Mme de Staël

Corinna, poetess, famous Roman improviser – Laura Giordano, Soprano

Marchesa Melibea, Polish widow of an Italian general, killed on the day of their marriage – Marianna Pizzolato, Contralto

La Contessa di Folleville, a fashionable young widow – Sofia Mchedlishvili, Soprano

Madama Cortese, Tyrolean hostess of the spa hotel, wife of a French businessman – Alessandra Marianelli, Soprano

Il Cavalier Belfiore, elegant French officer, amateur painter, ladies man, in pursuit of Contessa di Folleville – Bogdan Mihai, Tenor

Il Conte di Libenskof, Russian general, impetuous, extremely jealous by nature, in love with Marchesa Melibea – Maxim Mironov, Tenor

Lord Sidney, English colonel, secretly in love with Corinna – Mirco Palazzi, Bass

Don Profondo, scholar, antiquarian, friend of Corinna – Bruno De Simone, Bass

Il Barole di Trombonok, German major, music-lover – Bruno Praticò, Bass

Don Alvaro, Spanish admiral, in love with Marchesa Melibea – Gezim Myshketa, Bass

“Occasional works scarcely ever live on after the event for which they were written.” It was with this and similar sentences that critics in Paris regretted the rapid disappearance of Il viaggio a Reims following its première on 19 June 1825. Rossini himself did not believe that his “little occasional work” (“petite pièce de circonstance”) could have any chance of a future. The published libretto carried the description Dramma giocoso, which was translated literally as an opéra-comique, thus very much like a “comic opera”. From the beginning Rossini himself declared the piece to be a “cantata” and he used this term even in later years when he was authenticating its remaining autographed parts. For Rossini the term “cantata” was tantamount to being a work which was outside the main repertoire. Such commissioned cantatas were, for him, always works of a transitory nature, meaning that their music either originated from earlier works, or was later re-used, or even both. After only four performances Rossini withdrew Il viaggio a Reims from an enthusiastic public and three years later resurrected long stretches of it in Le Comte Ory—to even greater and much more enduring success. His strategy worked out well; the music fitted magnificently into the new stageready work.

It is no surprise that Rossini regarded the music in the guise of this cantata to be incapable of surviving. Its subject-matter was not even that of a general, detached allegory in a mythological or arcadian style, but was a contemporary farce tailored precisely to the occasion being celebrated. In Il viaggio numerous international guests have assembled in the real-life spa resort of Plombières in order to be taken on to Reims to attend the forthcoming coronation festivities for Charles X. But due to the lack of any transport facilities they present their own celebration in the hotel garden; each guest sings their own national anthem, with an appropriate text, as a message of greeting. It is logical to suppose that, as soon as the everyday politics of the new king took effect, such a work would no longer be of interest.

Rossini had been aware of the transient nature of political proclamations from his early youth. His father professed himself to be a “true Republican”, wedded to the ideals of the French Revolution, but when troops loyal to the pope banished the French again, he ended up in prison. When in Bologna in 1815 Rossini himself must have experienced how he jeopardized his career, through his own anthem to an Italian centralized state as proclaimed by Murat; Murat was defeated by the Austrians at Tolentino and the Napoleonic age came to an abrupt end. In the period following the restoration Rossini regularly composed for the Bourbon court in Naples cantatas for birthdays, recoveries from illness and visits—all occasions which took place on one particular day, before normal business was resumed. In the case of the substantial cantata written for the marriage of Maria Carolina to the Duke of Berry (Le nozze di Teti e di Peleo, 1816) it must have come to his attention that the work actually brought the royal pair no luck: four years later the Duke was assassinated. Armed with this knowledge it was clear to Rossini that it would be no better for the coronation ceremony of Charles X, even if he expanded the work from a “small piece” into a full-length one-acter in three parts and even if the music came from the most famous composer of the age and represented his début work for Paris.

Only a few months later the grandiose hymns of praise to the new king would have provoked sarcasm and outrage. With his ultra-conservative politics, which sought to restore pre-revolutionary privileges to the upper classes and which re-introduced censorship with ordinances that overturned quasi-constitutional charters, Charles X snubbed the emerging liberal bourgeoisie. Even with expedient textual adjustments a revival of this coronation opera would have been unthinkable during the reign of the king, still less so after his downfall only five years later during the 18-year regency of the “citizen king” Louis-Philippe. Likewise the much-noticed subject of the Greek struggle for freedom which the poet Luigi Balochi had put into the libretto would, like all political subjects of the day, soon become obsolete and, at the most, would have only a historical dimension. In an opera celebrating the present day it would have had little meaning. Even if Rossini could not have foreseen these occurrences in detail, he still knew that his “cantata” would have been lost had he not preserved its music, at least in part, in his Comte Ory. One critic, Charles Maurice, who in other respects was not very Rossini-friendly, predicted however in the Courrier français of 20 June 1825 that: “It is possible that Il viaggio will outlive the occasion which gave rise to it.” Almost 160 years later he might be vindicated—likewise Stendhal, who spotted succinctly that: “This opera is a feast”.

In the Rossini renaissance of the last thirty years many cantatas have been unearthed and some of them have enjoyed a certain popularity in concert halls, thanks to their scintillating music and their generally mythological content, which today leaves us indifferent. When Il viaggio a Reims was resurrected in 1984 in Pesaro nobody really reckoned that it could become a staple of the repertoire, not necessarily on account of its subject-matter, which is so irrelevant and so far removed from us today, like the ancient tales of the gods, but for practical reasons: the roster of Rossinian star singers of the day, under Claudio Abbado, was unparalleled and could at most be repeated only on special occasions. Abbado conducted the opera, with small alterations to the line-up, in the production by Luca Ronconi, until 1992, in Milan, Vienna, Tokyo and Ferrara, and every time one thought: “That was it.” But in the interim several smaller theatres and even music conservatories had taken up the challenge of presenting it and it became surprisingly apparent that such bold undertakings succeeded in every case, some even triumphantly. The myth that the opera was impossible to perform was effectively debunked even if it remained part of the academic and philosophical discussion surrounding the work; even today every theatre that takes on the work readily refers to its “unfeasibility”.

But how could it be that this opera, of all operas, has become such a cult in our times? As to the plot one doesn’t have to give a damn about it today; of what interest to us is Charles X and his time? Ronconi allowed him to appear with his royal household, but as a multi-media spectacle that immediately revealed it as “staged”. In the production which is given every year by the graduates of the Rossini Academy in Pesaro, Emilio Sagi presents Charles X as a boy king, with balloons. And in most productions the king himself does not actually appear; the members of the international company celebrate themselves. Only one director, the politically-sensitive Nobel prize-winner Dario Fo, in his 2003 Helsinki production, denounced the ultra-royalist king and his “unwholesome” association with the church. (In Fo’s production the king catches a chill because he has been anointed while lying half-naked before the archbishop on the cold floor of the church). Other productions will often make reference to the latest politics of the day (and it is perhaps the only Rossini opera that actually justifies that), for instance to the EU.

But the opera is a celebration of itself without any political agenda: its genre, its music, its singers, its composer. In 1992, the 200th anniversary of Rossini’s birth, there were even eight productions of Il viaggio a Reims and in 1998, to mark the tenth anniversary of ROSSINI IN WILDBAD, the work was performed for the first time in the spa town of Bad Wildbad, conducted by Alberto Zedda. It was perfectly obvious that this truly royal opera was the ideal choice to mark the re-dedication of Wildbad’s Royal Kurtheater in 2014. In the context of its successful collaboration with SWR and Naxos this presented the Festival with the opportunity of releasing the complete opera on CD for the first time and in accordance with the critical edition. Below are a number of variations from the established “performing tradition” and from the two “historical” recordings by Claudio Abbado:

– The musical quotations from Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven and Bach in the recitative before the Countess of Folleville’s aria were an inventive addition to the 1984 production but they did not come from Rossini.

– The eight verses in Corinna’s third stanza in the sextet were often reduced to two.

– The chorus L’allegria è un sommo bene [CD 3 / 6] in the finale is missing in previous recordings because the music for it had not yet been discovered. Later Philip Gossett had identified a model for it in the girls’ chorus from Maometto II and for a while this number was performed as a women’s chorus. Now however it has been reconstructed for the critical edition as a mixed chorus.

– In Lord Sidney’s extended cadenza in the British national anthem Rossini put the words “basta, basta” (“enough, enough”) into the mouth of Baron Trombonok (this “gag” was not included by the librettist). In many performances these words are spoken by others or even by the conductor.

– In earlier recordings, during the French anthem, sung by Folleville and Belfiore, the trumpets blare out the Marseillaise from the orchestra pit after the Countess’s cadenza. This was certainly no impertinent gesture on Rossini’s part against the Bourbon king but a pure invention of the 1984 production; during the restoration of the monarchy the playing of the revolutionary hymn was a criminal offence.

– Rossini had earmarked five stanzas to be improvised by Corinna (in the melodic sequence ABA’B’A’’, which naturally required variations in their repetitions, for which we owe thanks here to Francis Benichou). Contrary to current practice the third and fourth stanzas are not cut in Wildbad.

– All the recitatives are recorded in their entirety.

– In Bad Wildbad the two short sections of ballet music which interrupt the final variations of the theme “Vive Henri IV” are not cut.

Reto Müller
English translations by David Stevens

Synopsis

CD1

A room in The Inn of the Golden Fleur-de-lys, Plombières.

[1] Maddalena urges the staff to get on with their work, since the guests will leave today. Don Prudenzio, the hotel’s doctor, checks that breakfast is being prepared correctly. [2] The hotel’s proprietress Madame Cortese is delighted by the beautiful day and would also like to accompany her guests on their journey. [3] Mindful of the good reputation enjoyed by her establishment, she calls on the staff to be more than ever attentive to the idiosyncracies of each and every guest. [4] Madame Cortese is sorry that she won’t be able to see the new monarch. She hears the fashion-mad Countess of Folleville calling for her maid. The Countess is in a bad mood because she does not have with her the latest fashion items that she needs for the coronation. Her cousin Don Luigino appears and in a fluster reports that the coach carrying her clothes has met with an accident. The Countess falls into a faint. Cries for help are met by Maddalena, Antonio, Baron von Trombonok and Don Prudenzio, who rush in. [5] The doctor senses that the Countess is in great danger. But as he talks of the possibility of her even dying the Countess suddenly sits up. The men are unable to console her; only women can understand her distress at the absence of her fashionable outfits: [6] Honour and her fatherland forbid her from setting out in such circumstances. Modestina hurries in carrying a box containing a little hat which has been salvaged undamaged from the coach. [7] Effusively the Countess gives thanks to the gods for this happy act of providence. Those present can barely suppress a smile. [8] Trombonok, who has been appointed by the travelling party as their treasurer, issues orders to Antonio to get everything ready for the departure for Reims. Referring to the Countess’s fainting-fit, Trombonok reckons that everyone in the world is mad in their own way. [9] He compares the world with a great fool’s cage. The Italian Don Profondo is late because he has been looking at a rare antique. The Spaniard Don Alvaro comes in with the Polish Marquess Melibea, who is looking forward to being on the journey in the company of such distinguished people. Madame Cortese is perturbed by the nonappearance of the courier. Libenskof, a Russian Count, is jealous because Don Alvaro is courting his beloved Melibea. [10] Despite attempts at reconciliation they are both at loggerheads. Don Profondo and Trombonok make the philosophical point that love makes grown men childish. [11] Suddenly the sound of harps rings out in the background and they hear the Roman poetess Corinna expressing her thanks for a golden age of brotherly love. [12] They all appear spellbound and forget about their quarrels.

CD 2

[1] Madame Cortese is still waiting for Zefirino. She sees Lord Sidney arrive; he is secretly in love with Corinna and Madame Cortese is of the opinion that the feeling is mutual. [2] The Englishman is suffering from the pain brought about by his love for Corinna. [3] He tries in vain to tear Cupid’s arrow from his heart. Peasant girls enter carrying flowers, the messengers of his love for her. [4] While the chorus sings in praise of the beloved’s grace and modesty, Lord Sidney dwells on thoughts of his yearning passion. [5] Don Profondo, who is asking Lord Sidney about English antiquities, is told abruptly to go to the museums. He has a letter from Rome for Corinna; it contains good news about the future of Greece, which fills Delia, a Greek orphan in Corinna’s custody, with hope. Left alone, Corinna, deeply moved, contemplates the daily gift of flowers from her admirer. [6] Belfiore has decided to win over the beautiful Corinna. [7] To the astonishment of the poetess he confesses that he has fallen madly in love with a great beauty. Finally he throws himself at her feet and admits that it is she whom he worships. [8] Corinna is not impressed by the philanderer and threatens to call people in. But Belfiore is convinced that Corinna, like all women, is only pretending for the sake of protocol and that she will weaken sooner or later. [9] Don Profondo has witnessed the scene and laughs at the beau, knowing full well that the Countess of Folleville will punish her lover when she finds out about it. But now he must draw up an inventory of the goods and chattels that his fellow travellers will take with them on the journey. [10] He himself will take with him priceless medals, precious antiquities, his academic distinctions and an unpublished treatise. For the Spaniard he makes a note of genealogical tables with explanatory commentaries, diplomas and decorations as well as Peruvian pearls. The Polish lady owns the most exquisite works of literature as well as pictures based on them. The French lady has her finest jewellery with her, as well as a box intended for the latest hat. For the German Don Profondo makes a note of dissertations on harmony, first-rate works by German composers and obscure types of wind instruments. In his luggage the Englishman has treatises on navigation, Chinese tea, opium and airguns, as well as English parliamentary bills. The Frenchman carries lithographs by Horace Vernet and painting equipment, not to mention souvenirs of past love affairs. The Russian owns descriptions of Siberia and Turkey, stuffed animals and feather head-dresses. Having finalised the list Don Profondo jumps for joy at the prospect of the forthcoming departure; he fancies that he can hear the stamping of the horses and exults in the great moment. [11] The Countess of Folleville is looking for the Chevalier Belfiore. As a scholar Don Profondo doesn’t want to lie to her, so he tells her that the Chevalier has been having a poetry lesson. The Countess vows inwardly to have her revenge. Don Alvaro and Count Libenskof ask impatiently about the reason for the delay. At that moment Trombonok comes in and announces terrible news which the courier, who has just arrived, will tell them himself. After all the others have been called in Zefirino explains that the proposed journey will have to be cancelled. No horses are to be had anywhere, either for hire or sale, because they have all long since been reserved for the journey to Reims. [12] All thirteen of the guests react with dismay to this unexpected blow. Then Madame Cortese hurries in with a comforting letter which she has just received from her husband in Paris. By popular request Don Profondo reads out the letter in a loud voice. Within the next few days the king is expected back in Paris where a great celebration is being prepared; all those who were unable to make it to Reims for the coronation will be able to take solace from the celebrations in Paris. The Countess of Folleville impulsively offers the entire group accommodation in her Paris house. [13] They all take up this idea with great enthusiasm, delighted at being able to outwit fate.

CD 3

[1] The stage-coach scheduled to leave for Paris the next morning seems to be the natural conveyance. With the money that they have already collected they will be able to put on a public celebration that very evening. As a friend of harmony, Trombonok would like Melibea and Libenskof to be reconciled. [2] Libenskof defends himself that he is guilty only of an excess of love and that he would like Melibea’s heart back. She reproaches him for thinking that she could be unfaithful and doesn’t believe in his repentance. [3] But she feels her sternness wane, while Libenskof’s hopes rise. Finally she relents and, full of the happiness of love, they fall into each other’s arms.

A lit garden with tables ready laid. [4] Antonio instructs Gelsomino to call the guests to the tables. Maddalena announces a travelling company of singers and dancers whom the Baron has invited on impulse. [5] While the guests are being seated the dancers present a mythological allegory. [6] The four singers from the travelling players, with the attendants as the chorus, celebrate cheerfulness as being the greatest good. [7] After this divertissement Trombonok announces the order of the toasts. [8] He opens proceedings by drinking to harmony among the European peoples. They all join in with the refrain; then it is Melibea’s turn. [9] To the rhythm of a rousing polonaise she toasts the brave soldiers; the chorus reiterates the watchwords of fatherland, throne, fidelity and honour. [10] In a song of the tsars Libenskof toasts the heiress apparent to the French throne for her courage and for her future reign. Trombonok hands on the toast from the north to the south. [11] The Spaniard Don Alvaro sings an anthem to the Duke of Angoulême, who liberated his country from civil war. The Englishman claims to be unmusical. [12] But of course he knows the English national anthem with which he toasts the next Bourbon generation, the Duke of Bordeaux and the French people. The two French guests, Folleville and Belfiore, are to choose a song in C major. [13] They sing the praises of the mother of the aforementioned and the chorus wishes for her the benevolence of heaven. Finally Trombonok asks Madame Cortese and Don Profondo to round things off in E flat major. [14] The native Tyrolean lady and the Italian strike up a Tyrolean round dance comprising an echo yodel. It refers to the golden lily, the emblem of the ruling Bourbon branch which, in a refrain, the choir extols as the continuous hope of the French people. Finally it falls to Corinna to contribute her improvisations. Everyone writes down on slips of paper key words, which are then put into a tombola drum; by happy chance Melibea pulls out the one on the subject of “Charles X, King of France”. [15] Corinna dedicates an improvisation of five stanzas to him. [16] After this hymn of praise likenesses of the royal family and of the most famous French kings appear on banners. After some short dances Belfiore, followed by all the others, toasts the king. The festivities conclude with a vivat to France and her valiant ruler.

Reto Müller
English translations by David Stevens


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