Il viaggio a Reims – Dramma giocoso in one act to a libretto by Luigi Balocchi [concert performance; sung in Italian with English surtitles]
Maddalena – Justina Gringyte
Don Prudenzio – Jihoon Kim
Antonio – Daniel Grice
Madama Cortese – Ailish Tynan
La Contessa di Folleville – Madeleine Pierard
Modestina – Hanna Hipp
Don Luigino – Pablo Bemsch
Il Barone di Trombonok – Jacques Imbrailo
Don Profondo – Lukas Jakobski
Don Alvaro – Kostas Smoriginas
La Marchesa Melibea – Kai Rüütel
Il Conte di Libenskof – Ji Hyun Kim
Corinna – Marina Poplavskaya
Lord Sidney – Matthew Rose
Delia – Anna Devin
Il Cavaliere Belfiore – Edgaras Montvidas
Zefirino / Gelsomino – ZhengZhong Zhou
Orchestra of English National Opera
Pedro Ribeiro – Concert staging
Nick Ware – Lighting design
Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London
Thursday, July 19, 2012
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It’s got to the point where Royal Opera-goers take the Jette Parker Young Artists rather for granted. In fact, those asterisk-marked artists “currently participating” in the Programme have only been assuming smaller roles since 2001, but during that period many of the Jette Parker singers have gone on to mainstream things, and were adding their considerable clout to eight of the ten main roles in this tenth anniversary end-of-season event. What Jette Parker and the Oak Foundation started has certainly paid off.
Memories of The Royal Opera’s 1992 staging of Il viaggio a Reims (The Journey to Rheims, the opera that Rossini withdrew after four performances in 1825 to recycle a good half of it in Le comte Ory), with Montserrat Caballé going wildly over the top as Madama Cortese, were otherwise to do with the extremes of vocal display Rossini demanded. Viaggio is a singers’ opera; and its comic plot about an international group of VIPs with their various love entanglements holed up in the Golden Lily Hotel, unable to get to Rheims for the coronation of King Charles X, is the flimsiest pretext for an orgy of arias and ensembles celebrating the heady delights of bel canto singing – and this performance’s balancing act between concert performance and dramatic cantata, with the singers (most performing from memory, or at least only tenuously attached to the music stand) ranged in front of the orchestra worked extremely well under the simple and effective stage direction by Pedro Ribeiro (also on the Jette Parker scheme).
Things started as they meant to go on, with the bustling, warm-hearted Madama Cortese, patronne of the Golden Lily and in effect the opera’s anchor-woman, sung by Ailish Tynan, reeling off strings of decorations with beguiling insouciance, playing fast and loose with some amazing trills, and seeming to phrase as much with her flashing eyes as with her impressive breath control. Madeleine Pierard, a soprano from New Zealand and a current Young Artist, was fabulous as the fashion-victim monster, the Contessa de Folleville, blessed with a voice of glittering, secure virtuosity and volume as well as an imposing, not to say intimidating presence. She wisely played down the comic potential of her major aria lamenting the loss of all her frocks, the better for us to be in no doubt as to its difficulty.
In the hardly less subdued role of the Marchesa Melibea, the Estonian mezzo Kai Rüütel nailed her interesting vocal colours, athletic leaps and crisp roulades to the mast with easy accuracy, and, inasmuch as the opera admits any emotional involvement, was rather touching in her dealings with her two admirers. There was a welcome, subtle sense of self-mockery to Marina Poplavskaya’s sibyl-like Corinna, the rhapsodising poetess and earnest improvisatrice, who vainly tries to raise the tone above frocks and intrigue. In her famously cool way, Poplavskaya, even though she was singing mostly next to her beautifully played harp accompaniment at the back of the orchestra, brought a bit of a smile to her even, lyrical coloratura, and she was serenely in charge of the demands of her duet with love-rat Belfiore.
Among the men, the filosofo-like role of Don Profondo was sung by the Polish bass Lukas Jakobski, his height as impressive (and comical in his duet next to the not-so-tall Ailish Tynan) as the strong definition in his patter aria ‘Medaglie incomparibili’, although his bass is more about range than colour. The other role unencumbered by any love interest is Baron Trombonok, magnificently sung by the South African baritone Jacques Imbrailo, a deadpan compere of the long finale of various national anthems, which saved it from seeming to delight us just a bit too long.
Batting for Britain, both in role and as a native, was Matthew Rose as the repressed, lovesick Lord Sidney, who delivered his long scena, with its fancy flute obbligato, with a winning combination of gravitas and agility, and there was a powerfully sung Admiral Alvaro from the Lithuanian bass-baritone Kostas Smoriginas.
The two lead tenors, Ji Hyun Kim as Count Libenskof and Edgaras Montvidas as Belfiore shone in the respective duets as well as in the magnificent sextet and the celebrated ‘Gran Pezzo Concertato’ for 14 voices that marks the guests’ reaction when they are told there is no chance of their getting to Rheims.
Among the smaller roles, Justina Gringyte, Hanna Hipp and a splendidly petulant ZhengZhong Zhou stood out, but really the whole cast rose to the challenge of this gala occasion. Quite a few of the singers have made their mark as tragic figures of one sort or another, but proved to be sprightly comedians.
Daniele Rustini’s conducting of the guest ENO Orchestra was exemplary, cueing the singers brilliantly, keeping a firm but pliant grip on the ensemble and never losing that inimitable Rossinian bounce and fizz, the ENO musicians responding in kind.
With an international cast playing and sending up European stereotypes, the Royal Opera was fielding its own mini-Cultural Olympiad – indeed, you could easily imagine Viaggio translated to an Olympics setting (there has been a recent Nuremberg production set in the European Parliament, with great success). The 2012 Olympics will have its work cut out to match this performance’s effervescence.