Youthful Exuberance: Il viaggio a Reims at the Rossini Opera Festival

Rossini – Il viaggio a Reims

Corinna – Maria Laura Iacobellis
La Marchesa Melibea – Chiara Tirotta
La Contessa di Folleville – Claudia Muschio
Madame Cortese – Claudia Urru
Il Cavaliere Belfiore – Matteo Roma
Il Conte di Libenskof – Pietro Adaíni
Lord Sidney – Nicolò Donini
Don Profondo – Diego Savini
Il Barone di Trombonok – Michael Borth
Don Alvaro – Jan Antem
Don Prudenzio – Alejandro Sánchez
Don Luigino – Antonio Garés
Delia – Carmen Buendía
Maddalena – Valeria Girardello
Modestina – Francesca Longari
Zefirino – Oscar Oré
Antonio – Elcin Huseynov
Gelsomino – Oscar Oré

Orchestra Sinfonica Gioachino Rossini / Giancarlo Rizzi.
Stage director – Emilio Sagi.

Rossini Opera Festival, Piazza del Popolo, Pesaro, Italy.  Saturday, August 15th, 2020.

In our current drought of live opera, the fact that the Rossini Opera Festival was able to mount a modified season for its 2020 edition is undoubtedly reason to celebrate.  Particularly so, as this revival of Emilio Sagi’s 2001 staging of Il viaggio a Reims, gave us the opportunity to see some of the next generation of Rossini singers.  Of course, this wasn’t a traditional night at the opera.  The performance was mounted in the Piazza del Popolo in downtown Pesaro, on a temporary stage, with screens magnifying the action on either side of the stage, and both the singers and orchestra amplified.  The sound mix was reasonably successful, even if the strings sounded rather thin, but it gave us a very good impression of the quality of the voices on offer.

Photo: © ROF

The sight of both the Italian and European Union flags on either side of the stage, served as a reminder of how this work celebrates the peoples of Europe coming together.  In a time where the United Kingdom is faced with a far-right government thriving on encouraging hate and prejudice, this message of celebrating both national differences and the joy of working together with others, could not be more welcome.  Sagi’s staging, here revived by Elisabetta Courir, is by now a well-known quantity.  I saw it, and discussed it at length, back in 2017 at the Liceu.  Set in what appears to be a beach-side sanatorium, it provides an appropriate framework for the action.  What was notable tonight, magnified by the screens giving us even more detail of what unfolded on stage, was the clear delight in the cast being able to perform for us – their facial reactions gave us a sense of a group of characters clearly engaging with each other.  Of course, Sagi’s staging doesn’t come anywhere close to giving us the life-enhancing joy that Michieletto’s does (one of the greatest stagings of anything I’ve seen).  I’m also not quite convinced Sagi creates a clear, coherent narrative from the work – it feels more like a sense of scenes in succession.  But, as a framework to allow the performances to come to life, it does the job.

There was a consistency of musical approach throughout the cast that I found immensely satisfying.  The entire cast had clearly been prepared with care, every single singer demonstrating an understanding of the Rossinian line, of the art of ornamentation, and a musicality that so many others spend much of their careers learning.  It would be impossible to do justice to every single member of the cast here, but the quality of what was heard proves that the art of Rossini singing has a very bright future.  Maria Laura Iacobellis was an eloquent Corinna, singing her extensive numbers in a soprano rooted in a velvety middle that rose to a bright, silky top.  She had an implicit understanding of the idiom in her singing, the ability to transform those long, languid lines into living, breathing expressions of beauty that I found compelling – when so often elsewhere Corinna’s two numbers can feel interminable.  Claudia Muschio sang Folleville with a narrow but limpid soprano with immaculate coloratura and easy acuti.  Claudia Urru contrasted nicely with Muschio, offering a juicy soprano of even sheen, absolutely even from top to bottom, and with equally immaculate ease in turning the corners.  Chiara Tirotta brought her sunny mezzo to the role of Melibea.  She was rather tasteful in her chestiness, not quite giving us the organ pedal dips heard elsewhere.  However, in her even coloratura and bright, easy top, I am sure she will be in great demand in the big Rossini mezzo roles.

Matteo Roma gave us a handsome Belfiore, his tenor bright and easy on top, yet with a lyrical warmth at its core.  Pietro Adaíni brought an even brighter, but well-placed tenor, to Libenskof, singing with generosity – perhaps with a little too much exuberance, ideally needing to expand the dynamic range of his singing to shade the tone below forte at times.  Still, I imagine he will also have a very bright future in this rep.  Diego Savini sang Don Profundo’s aria off the text, really managing to make the words live.  He’s still very young for a bass, so the top understandably loses a little in depth of tone at this point, but this will surely come.  I was also struck by Alejandro Sánchez as Don Prudenzio.  He’s the owner of a warm and resonant bass, one that already has an attractively complex range of tonal colours, evidenced in a role as short as this, and will definitely be a name to watch.  Nicolò Donini gave a passionate account of Lord Sidney’s scene, singing in a fine, inky baritone, while Michael Borth sang Trombonok’s music with admirable textual clarity.  Catalan baritone Jan Antem made much of Alvaro’s number, rather than a bravura showpiece, he found a light and shade to it that I found particularly interesting.

Again, the reminder of the cast really did demonstrate the superb musical preparation witnessed throughout the cast.  At the head of the Orchestra Sinfonica G Rossini, Giancarlo Rizzi led a reading that stayed resolutely rooted to the ground with moderate tempi.  There was some very characterful wind playing, particularly from the clarinets, and Irene Piazzai accompanied Iacobellis’s Corinna eloquently on the harp.  There were a few ragged entries here and there and I must admit to longing for the rhythms to be pointed a bit more tightly.  Rizzi’s conducting was certainly efficient.

There was something very special for this to be my first opera after months of operatic drought.  The hope of seeing a group of extremely talented young singers, all singing in such a stylistically appropriate way, embellishing the lines as if they and they alone owned them, made for a splendid return to live opera.  Of course, there were compromises due to the outdoor setting, the amplification, and reservations about the conducting.  But there, sitting under the stars, in the city where the great maestro was born, there was a real sense of congeniality, joy and happiness – and there really can’t be anything more Rossinian than that.

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