The Argentino of La Plata has offered recently the South American premiere of a special opera by Gioacchino Rossini: "Il viaggio a Reims". Or rather, unique: for it is a long "bel canto divertimento" with practically no plot. I certainly welcome it, though I can´t help thinking that both Buenos Aires and La Plata are sorely in debt with the "serious" Rossini: we need well-cast stage versions of "Semiramide" (though it had a condensed concert performance at La Plata some years ago), "Mosè", "La donna del lago" and "Il sitio di Corinto".
"Il viaggio a Reims" is indeed a "rara avis": although written in Italian, it was Rossini´s first opera written for Paris. Specifically, the libretto by Luigi Balocchi (based partly on Madame de Staël´s "Corinne, ou l´Italie") is what might be called an "occasional piece", for it is unabashedly a tribute to Charles X´s coronation at Reims (May 29, 1825). Balocchi was the official librettist of the Théâtre des Italiens in Paris, and the opera is subtitled ("ossia") "L´albergo del Giglio d´Oro", this being a hotel at the small spa of Plombières en route to Reims.
In just one very long act (divided by an interval at the Argentino) a group of aristocrats stop for the night at the spa, and then can´t go on to Reims because of a shortage of horses, but they console themselves with the thought that in Paris they will participate in the celebrations for the King. A minimal episode concerning a love triangle is all that can be mentioned as plot; otherwise you have minimal incidents as pretexts for displays of bel canto.
Consider: three sopranos, a contralto, two tenors and five baritones have principal parts, and there are seven flank roles. A total of eighteen singers! And at the Argentino everyone is double-casted except three of the smaller parts. I heard the first cast.
The music is prime Rossini, scintillating, difficult and charming. Curiously there is no overture (a non-authentic adaptation of a dance from "Le siège de Corinthe" is wrongly circulated as the overture to "Il viaggio a Reims") The premiere wasn´t successful, and a good deal of what is in "Il viaggio…" ended up adapted and in French in "Le Comte Ory", a delicious " opéra bouffe". The Rossini Festival at Pesaro resurrected "Il viaggio a Reims" in 1984. Then came the two splendid recordings with different casts conducted by Claudio Abbado.
The current staging at the Argentino is Emilo Sagi´s for a later Pesaro occasion as revived by Elisabetta Courir, with stage designs by Daniel Blanco (an Argentine resident in Spain) and by the Spanish costume designer Pepa Ojanguren. As so often nowadays, Sagi brings the action up to date, with cellular phones, no matter ihat it makes complete nonsense of the tribute to Charles X. The only stage design is a huge white elevated verandah quite close to the orchestral pit; all concerned act in that area, except for a slow aria from Corinne sung from a loge. And up to almost the end, they all sport white spa bath robes, which doesn´t make it easier to distinguish the characters. Nevertheless, the moves of the actors are sprightly and there´s a lot of give and play.
The large cast was dominated by the baritones. The Chilean Ricardo Seguel did a brilliant job in Don Profondo´s patter aria where he impersonates people of various countries. Luciano Miotto showed his buffo "savoir faire" as Lord Sydney. Luis Gaeta was his usual authoritative self as Trombonok (curiously a German aristocrat , the name sounds Slavic). Leonardo Estévez was correct as Don Álvaro. Granted that the tenor parts are very high-lying, the debutants Alessandro Luciano and Francisco Brito weren´t quite up to par, especially the former. Of the ladies Paula Almerares (Corinne) started weakly but then found her form and had some exquisite moments. Neither Marisú Pavón nor Victoria Gaeta were exempted from some acidity in high notes but otherwise were good. Not so Nidia Palacios (contralto) whose florid singing was quite disagreeable. Of the many other parts, I single out as pleasant the work of Santiago Ballerini, Francisco Bugallo, Ricardo Crampton and María del Rocío Giordano.
I was surprised by the very Rossinian phrasing and good command of the conductor, the Italian Sergio Monterisi (debut) who got a quite satisfactory stylistic result from the orchestra.
The Colón, as usual for the winter holidays, put on a show for the kids. It was a revival of a choreography by Oscar Araiz on Saint-Saëns´ "The carnival of the animals", a charming parody well known through recordings but not often heard in public, and then generally as a concert piece. It incorporates texts by María Elena Walsh said by an emcee, in this case Karina K, well-routined and agile. As the show is very short (just 35´), she filled up 15 extra minutes with jokes and riddles. The Colón Ballet (23 dancers) did very nicely the well-wrought steps imagined by Araiz.
However, I found that the show was too abstract for kids: the animals were suggested by gestures, but the very simple costumes of Renata Schussheim gave no inkling of particular animals, there was no stage design, no special makeup helped the dancers. And a sore point, the music was recorded. Even the Walsh texts were too full of social criticism, touching on themes that were more for adults.
For Buenos Aires Herald