United Kingdom Rossini, Il Viaggio a Reims (concert performance): Jette Parker Young Artists, Orchestra of English National Opera/Daniele Rustioni (conductor), Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, 20.7.2012. (CC)
Justina Gringyte: Maddalena
Jihoon Kim: Don Prudenzio
Daniel Grice: Antonio
Ailish Tynan: Madame Cortese
Madeleine Pierard: La Contessa de Folleville
Pablo Bemsch: Don Luigino
Jacques Imbrailo: Il Barone di Trombonok
Lukas Jakobski: Don Profondo
Kostas Smoriginas: Don Alvaro
Kai Rüütel: La Marchesa Melibea
Ji-Min Park: Il Conte di Libenskof
Marina Poplavskaya: Corinna
Matthew Rose: Lord Sidney
Anna Devin: Delia
Edgaras Montvidas: Il Cavaliere Belfiore
Ji Hyun Kim: Zefirino
Zhengzhong Zhou: Gelsomino
It is not every day one gets a chance to hear Rossini’s 1825 opera Il Viaggio a Reims, and a glance at the plot (what there is of it) explains why. There is so much about the preparations to the journey to Rheims that it feels a bit like an opera about a group of people in the waiting room of a railway station. Performing it unstaged (semistaged would be to massively overstate the case) hardly helps. It was written to commemorate the coronation of Charles X of France. If you know Count Ory, you will know much of the music on show here.
The soloists were all Jette Parker Young Artists, from recent (2011, Justina Gringyte) to not so recent (Ailish Tynan, 2002), and it is a testament to this scheme that the actual performance standard was so high. The cause was the tenth anniversary of the scheme. Some of the names now, if not quite household, certainly hold their own in the current operatic firmament: Matthew Rose, Ailish Tynan, Kostas Smoriginas and (especially, perhaps) Marina Poplavskaya all fall into this bracket.
The ROH acoustic seemed to emphasise the faults of the ENO orchestra, unfortunately, so their lack of depth of sound was emphasized (at least from the dizzying heights of the amphitheatre). Their reactions were true, though, to the energetic conducting of Daniele Rustioni (Principal Guest Conductor at Orchestra Regionale Toscana, Florence and at the Mikhailovsky Theatre, St Petersburg). Rustioni is hardly a static conductor – he likes jumping in the air, literally – but he has a keen ear and the orchestra seemed welded to the singers’ capricious rubati. He also ensured that Rossini’s fun with national anthems was tremendously effective.
Of the singers, Paplovskaya (Corinna) did not disappoint. It was good to hear her in this repertoire, and her harp-accompanied arias were pure delight, moments of gorgeous repose. When I last heard her, as Violetta (Traviata, last October: https://www.seenandheard-international.com/2011/10/08/leo-nucci-excels-as-germont-in-covent-gardens-la-traviata/), she took some time to hit her stride. None of that here. Ailish Tynan’s Madama Cortese confirmed just what a fine singer she is, her technique perfection itself. Daniel Grice, who took the role of Antonio, joined the Jette Parker Young Artists Scheme in 2010 and is scheduled to sing Schaunard for Covent Garden, showed real promise, revealing a real ability to narrate effectively in recitative, while the more experienced Matthew Rose absolutely shone in his long scene (great flute playing from the ENO principal, too).
The mix of new and “old” (a relative term of course) worked well. Kostas Smoriginas has carved out quite a nice career for himself and his Don Alvaro ticked all the boxes. Korean tenor Ji Hyun Kim was a strong Zefirino, while Lukas Jakobski’s patter song (Don Profondo) was a real highlight in its confident delivery.
There are ensemble pieces as well, and in these there was a real sense of coming together, of shared script, and it was there that the performance really gelled. Given the paucity of plot, there is an argument to say we’re almost better off without a staging. The piece’s many fine arias got an outing that did not disappoint, but did not set the house alight, either. Rossini’s Viaggio a Reims doesn’t get out a great deal, so the opportunity to hear it was irresistible, and acted as undeniable testament to the success of the Jette Parker scheme.