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Il viaggio a Reims

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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A group of international travellers are unable to get to a special occasion due to transport problems beyond anyone’s control.  Not a portent of things to come over the next few weeks, surely, but the slenderest of scenarios around which Rossini wove an array of dazzling arias and ensembles for his 1825 Il viaggio a Reims.

In her programme note, Elaine Padmore tells us that the Jette Parker Young Artists scheme, now celebrating a decade of supporting up and coming new singers, directors and repétitéurs at the Royal Opera House, has drawn on 27 countries since it began.  A fair few of them fielded teams for this end-of-term concert staging, and there the Olympic allusions should stop.

Of the 75 young artists who have taken part in the scheme, many have already gone on to glittering careers and the performance drew a few of them back – Ailish Tynan, Jacques Imbrailo, Marina Poplavskaya, Matthew Rose and Edgaras Montvidas – putting them together with more recent and current members.  Some of the newer faces have already caught the eye, such as Hannah Hipp who shone in the recent Les Troyens, and the line-up was an altogether fitting tribute to the efficacy of the programme.

The plot outline above is as much as you need to know about the opera, except to say that the event is the coronation of King Charles X in Reims, during one of the brief periods that the French forgot that they were no longer a monarchy, and the place in which the would-be revelers are stranded is the spa town of Plombières.

Madeleine Pierard dominated the first half as the slinky, fashion-obsessed ninny (the sort the Revolution was supposed to have put paid to), La Contessa di Folleville, who could faint at the mere mention of wardrobe malfunction and suffers a good deal more over the loss of her luggage.  While some artists were more score-bound, Pierard’s was a fully-formed and riveting performance.  Whether fully conversant with their parts or not, the whole cast benefited from just enough adroit direction by Pedro Ribeiro (class of 2011) to take it off the page and make it live.

Grandstanding apart, and Rossini makes sure everyone gets their turn, some of the finest moments, as so often with this composer, were the ensembles.  A ravishing sextet (Imbrailo, Tynan, Ji-Hyun Kim, Kai Rüütel, Lukas Jakobski and Kostas Smoriginas) ushered in Poplavskaya’s entrance, accompanied by a luscious harp solo, giving hints as to why she’s one of the brightest stars the scheme has produced so far.   Jakobski brought the first half to a close with a gallop through national stereotypes, by way of luggage inventory, which he carried off with comic aplomb.

A series of national songs, with Rossini making even our own dreary old anthem sound like a half decent tune, followed by a paean to royalty (almost forgiveable given the opera was commissioned to celebrate the coronation) polished the whole thing off.  Daniele Rustioni (2008 intake) conducted the English National Opera orchestra (we weren’t told why) with great care and energy and it was a thoroughly enjoyable way to end the Royal Opera season.

Participants not already mentioned were Justina Gringyte, Jihoon Kim, Daniel Grice, Pablo Bemsch, Anna Devin, Zhengzhong Zhou, Susana Gaspar and Jean-Paul Pruna on continuo.

- Simon Thomas  


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