Il Viaggio a Reims, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, July 2012Posted on 20 July 2012
This anniversary gala concert united Jette Parker Young Artists with several earlier performers from that programme who have since gone on to international careers, and Il Viaggio a Reims (The Journey to Rheims) was the perfect piece to bring them together. Written by Rossini to celebrate the coronation of Charles X in 1825, it all takes place at a spa hotel, where the staff are preparing their international guests for onward travel next morning to the coronation at Rheims, where French kings had for centuries been anointed. None of the bon vivants actually get to Rheims, owing to a sudden lack of transportation, but they create their own celebration at the hotel before going on to festivities in Paris.
Daniele Rustioni conducted the ENO orchestra on stage, producing just the right tempi and occasionally joining in the fun himself, acting as a stooge for the singers.
With eighteen solo parts this is quite something to put on, but when Madeleine Pierard came on as the French Countess, concerned about the apparent absence of her fine clothes, the performance moved superbly into high gear. She was wonderfully expressive, her coloratura excellent and her voice effortlessly changing amplitude. Marina Poplavskaya was equally fine as Corinna the French poetess, appearing first at stage rear in an elegant grey skirt and jacket and giving a lovely rendering of Arpa gentil. In Part II after a complete absence of transportation has been announced she changed into a long dress for the celebrations they will all make in the hotel itself.
Among the men, Jacques Imbrailo sang in an appropriately commanding voice as the retired German major Baron Trombonok, and at the end of Part I, Lukas Jakobski as the antiquarian Don Profondo gave a wittily entertaining fast monologue, with the conductor hopping up and down on his podium in a Hoffnung-esque performance. Jakobski’s duet earlier in Part I, with Matthew Rose as the Englishman Lord Sidney, was terrific and Rose himself sang with huge power — his rendering of the National Anthem done with a ready wit.
Among the smaller roles I particularly liked Jihoon Kim as the doctor Don Prudenzio, Daniel Grice as Antonio the maître d’hotel, and Zhengzhong Zhou, who appeared as Zeferino on the conductor’s podium to announce the complete absence of horses, upon which Ailish Tynan as a strongly sung countess invites the whole company to Paris. The ending celebrations at the hotel with the various national anthems was super fun, and the whole evening immensely enjoyable.
Good lighting design by Nick Ware made the proscenium arch glow in gold, with the dome above in blue, and house lights low throughout. What a pity it was only a one-off performance.