OPERA NEWS - Il Viaggio a Reims
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In Review > International

Il Viaggio a Reims

Deutsche Oper Berlin

In Review Viaggio hdl 1018
Il Viaggio a Reims at Deutsche Oper Berlin
© Thomas Aurin

AFTER AN UNEVEN and awkward succession of Meyerbeer, Korngold, Bizet and Johann Strauss premieres, Deutsche Oper Berlin’s 2017–18 season ended on an unexpectedly high note with Jan Bosse’s new production of Il Viaggio a Reims (seen July 5). 

Rossini’s 1825 opera buffa about an eclectic group of Europeans en route to the coronation of Charles X—the last Bourbon king—has never been much of a popular success, but the atmosphere at the sold-out performance I attended was close to a teeming biergarten during the World Cup. The crowd roared its approval, not only during the curtain call but after most of the individual arias, as if a favorite player had just scored a goal.

Giuseppe Luigi Balocchi’s libretto is full of inspired silliness, but the main joke seems to be that the long-awaited viaggio never happens. Bosse, a former house director at Berlin’s Maxim Gorki Theater, made his DOB debut five years ago with a very meta production of Rigoletto that took place in the Deutsche Oper itself. Here, he opted for a less postmodern approach to Viaggio, setting it in a hospital (very possibly a psychiatric ward) where sixteen patients, nurses, doctors and surgeons scurry about, making their manic (and purely imaginary) travel preparations. A large assortment of house singers and guest stars brought the opera’s motley crew to fresh and spunky life in a riotous performance that was propelled by a mixture of musical sensitivity and manic energy. There is virtually no plot to Viaggio, yet the three hours seemed to whiz by in a dazzling blaze. It was quite possibly the best ensemble piece I have ever seen on the opera stage. 

The opera’s bulging dramatis personae is a compendium of national clichés, and the singers were careful to keep the stock elements to a minimum. The stereotyping here is gentle, not malicious, and standouts for memorable characterizations included Siobhan Stagg, as the “fashion victim” (according to the house’s new English subtitles) Contessa de Folleville, and Gideon Poppe, as her rakish chevalier, Belfiore. Among the opera’s other couples, who undergo a number of complications, Mikheil Kiria was both wry and melancholy as Lord Sidney, who pines for the Roman poetess Corinna (the enchanting Elena Tsallagova, fending off Belfiore’s attentions), while the Russian Count Libenskof (the robust young American tenor David Portillo) is driven mad watching the object of his affection, the Polish widow Melibea (the excellent house mezzo Annika Schlicht) shamelessly flirt with Don Alvaro (the gripping Korean bass Dong-Hwan Lee, on loan from Theater Augsburg). 

As Madama Cortese, the proprietress of the Golden Lily Resort, who scrambles around for much of the opera trying to calm her guests’ nerves, Uzbek soprano Hulkar Sabirova, who sang the title role in Helmut Lachenmann’s Mädchen mit den Schwefelhölzern here six years ago, was witty, winning and extremely fluent. Those words also characterized the fluent musical performance that Giacomo Sagripanti coaxed out of the DOB orchestra, whose ranks are more accustomed to performing Wagner and Verdi than Rossini. In fact, there have been only two other premieres of works by Rossini here over the past decade, Katharina Thalbach’s wonderfully chaotic Barbiere and Peter Hall’s old-fashioned Cenerentola, both from 2009. Despite being done in a large and extremely resonant house, the delicate intricacies of Rossini’s score came through in a rare performance where the coordination between singers, musicians and even the most outlandish elements of the production (such as the large mirrored walls and ceiling or the frequent black-and-white video projections) conspired to yield some of the best bel canto Berlin has heard in a long time.  —A. J. Goldmann

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