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Il Viaggio a St. Petersburg

Ionarts contributor Oksana S. Khadarina has just returned from a trip to St. Petersburg. She will be relating some of her cultural experiences over the next several days.

Gioachino Rossini composed the opera Il Viaggio a Reims (The Journey to Rheims) in 1825 for the coronation of French King Charles X. It was a “for the event” opera, and shortly after the premier the composer withdrew it from further performances. French producer Alain Maratrat and designers Pierre Alain Bertola and Mireille Dessingy decided to shake the dust from this old and forgotten Rossini work. The new production of Il Viaggio a Reims premiered at the Mariinsky Theater proved to be a huge success with the audience. This opera was composed for the finest bel canto singers of the 1820s and requires considerable vocal resources. This fact didn’t worry the soloists of the Mariinsky Academy of Young Singers. They tackled their parts like pros. This is a comic “party opera,” and this is exactly what the young cast of the Mariinsky demonstrated last Sunday: Il Viaggio is not so much about the traveling, it’s about fun and sheer entertainment.

The members of the Mariinsky Orchestra dressed in identical white tuxedos left the orchestra pit and were comfortably situated in the back of the stage. The young guest conductor Tugan Sokhiev, who stepped in for the ever absent Valery Gergiev, skillfully navigated the Big Band through marvelous Rossini’s score.

The opera has no direct narrative. It begins with a procession of unusual arrivals of European aristocracy to the small Golden Lily Inn. Russian officer Count di Libenkof (tenor Mikhail Latyshev) made a triumphant entrance on a white horse. A health specialist, Don Prudenzio (Mikhail Kolelishvilli), was carried on stage in a white box decorated with red crosses. The poetess Corinna used a “fashion runway” (installed on the orchestra floor as a part of set decorations) to get in. At first, these mysterious arrivals reminded the setting of the Agatha Christie story And Then There Were None. But when the series of vocal solos, duets, and ensembles began, what happened on stage looked more like the operatic “European Idol,” except no one was voted off. (The ladies definitely outsang the gentlemen.)

The grand prix of the evening without doubt went to Marilyn Monroe look-alike, soprano Larisa Yudina. She was vocally stunning and brilliant as an actress portraying a fashion-obsessed French Contessa di Folleville. Her voice was luminous and crystal clear. She was charming and funny when she fainted and was proclaimed dead after learning that her finest wardrobe got lost on the way; and a little cute hat rescued by her maid “saved her life.” Clearly, she was the audience favorite. Golden Lily Hotel owner, Madam Cortese (soprano Anastasia Belyaeva), in her stylish red dress not only was a wonderful hostess but also gave a five-star performance as a singer. Queen-sized poetess Corinna was gorgeous in her simple yet elegant long white dress. The timbre of her voice was rich and warm. No wonder, she was able to calm down rowdy Count di Libenskof, who was contemplating starting a duel with Spanish Don Alvaro (Vladimir Tulpanov).

When all travelers had finally arrived, Baron di Trombononok (Vladislav Uspensky) broke the news that no horses could be found to travel to Reims and all travel plans would have to be cancelled. No horses? Not a problem! Golden Lily’s guests decided to stick around for a while and resolve some of their love issues, chat about art, fashion and politics, and then go to Paris to party at the house of Madam Cortese. (The Russian Count was totally smitten by Corinna’s singing and beauty, and he completely forgot that he actually did have the horses.)

One of the most successful duets was performed by Dmitry Voropayev (Cavalier Beliore) and Irma Gigolashvily in the beginning of the Act II, and in the finale of the opera, the “farewell number” called Improvisation en Mi bémol by Anastasia Belyaeva (Madam Cortese) and Nikolai Kamensky (Don Profondo) was good.

Not all solos were perfect, but singing together the Mariinsky Opera apprentice team made a superb ensemble. The final number of the opera, dedicated to the glory of France, was a musical triumph for Rossini and a definite victory for these young artists.

With a dozen singers to perform and a bunch of suitcases as a decoration set, Il Viaggio a Reims is a perfect portable opera. Valery Gergiev conducted this production in Paris last December. In January 2007 it will travel to Washington, D.C., and be performed at the Kennedy Center as a part of the Kirov's traditional annual visit.


george pieler said...

This narrative rather leaves the impression that the Kirov suddenly rediscovered Viaggio (Rossini's last opera in Italian) for the first time since 1825: in fact it was revived and reconstructed in the 1980's and has actually become rather popular (to name just two, produced in recent years, by NYCity Opera and Chicago Opera Theater), recorded on CD by Abbado and on DVD by Barcelona Opera.

Large chunks of the music were quickly re-used by Rossini in Le Comte Ory, upcoming in July from the Wolf Trap Opera Company.

The point of the "Golden Fleur-de-Lys" (technically not a lily) is its use as an emblem of the French monarchy, of course.

Oksana Khadarina said...

"The Kirov suddenly rediscovered Viaggio (Rossini's last opera in Italian) for the first time since 1825" in Russia, George.
And thank you for mentioning other rediscoveries.