The reign of Charles X of France turned out to be short and decidedly inglorious. But his accession to the throne in 1824 was an occasion to splash the cash, including the commissioning of Rossini to write Il viaggio a Reims in celebration. No expense was spared: there’s a cast of 18 soloists, ten of whom have demanding parts requiring top class Rossinian singing.

Il viaggio a Reims © Studio Amati Bacciardi
Il viaggio a Reims
© Studio Amati Bacciardi

The conceit of Il viaggio is that a collection of travellers from various countries pitch up at the uber-posh spa hotel The Golden Lily on their way to Reims for Charles’ coronation (spoiler: they never get there). The wafer-thin plot is less an opera than an operatic sketch show, a device to allow the greatest voices of the day (Giuditta Pasta, Nicolas Levasseur and more) to come on stage and strut their stuff. It also gives Rossini the chance to engage in some playful caricature of each of the nationalities as well as several celebrities of the day, making the whole thing into a kind of operatic Mock the Week. All this makes ll viaggio a Reims a perfect academy piece, and last night saw the first of a pair of live streams from the Rossini Opera Festival showcasing past and present artists from the Accademia Rossiniana “Alberto Zedda”.

Emilio Sagi’s staging is simple, effective, attractively lit and predominantly white. Everything happens on a brilliant white boardwalk equipped with white loungers, the guests are in a white spa robes, the management and staff in the kind of white uniforms that make them look like identical clones of every spa attendant you’ve ever seen. It adds bags of atmosphere, at the expense of a certain difficulty in remembering who’s who, putting more demands on each singer to mark the individuality of their voice.

Francisco Brito (Belfiore), Lara Lagni (Corinna) © Studio Amati Bacciardi
Francisco Brito (Belfiore), Lara Lagni (Corinna)
© Studio Amati Bacciardi

For Rossinian singing, we’re looking for perfect intonation, carefully weighted decoration and vibrato and elegant, nuanced phrasing. The singing from this young cast was exceptionally high, making light of the technical challenges. So I’m going to apologise now to anyone whom I don’t name-check: there simply isn’t room for all of you and I’m going to have to pick, rather arbitrarily, some of my favourites.

Top of my list is Francisco Brito as Belfiore, the “gay and elegant cavalier who pays court to all the women”. Brito’s tenor had strength to burn, the richness of dark chocolate, his movement around stage and his acting of the stock Latin lover radiated self-confidence. Brito is highly watchable as well as sounding great – a real talent to watch.

Michela Guarrera (Madama Cortese) © Studio Amati Bacciardi
Michela Guarrera (Madama Cortese)
© Studio Amati Bacciardi

The female voice I most enjoyed was Michela Guarrera as Madame Cortese, the Tyrolean owner of the hotel. Rossini’s writing for soprano must feel like a bit of an obstacle course, and while all the sopranos last night were successful in negotiating the tricky coloratura, Guarrera did so with a particularly beguiling sweetness at the top of her range, undamaged by any of the octave leaps or other difficulties. The appointed task in this opera is to nail your entrance aria – you’re not going to get many more chances to impress – and Guarrera gave us a “Di vaghi raggi adorno” to remember.

Conducted by Alessandro Cadario, the Orchestra Sinfonica G. Rossini gave us a spirited account of the music, with individuals (sadly unnamed in the programme) taking their chances to shine. The harp prelude to the poetess Corinna’s strophic “Arpa gentil” was played quite beautifully, and Lara Lagni sang the aria fervently. Corinna is the biggest role – the one taken by Giuditta Pasta – and Lagni gave us a strong performance with a delightful duet with Brito and a strongly performed ending (although her intonation was slightly off in the early bars, reminding us of quite how hard it is to hit perfection in this music).

Il viaggio a Reims finale © Studio Amati Bacciardi
Il viaggio a Reims finale
© Studio Amati Bacciardi

Nutsa Zakaidze gave us the strongest mezzo voice in her singing of the Polish widow Marchesa Melibea, Alan Starovoitov took his chance as the first of male voices to make his mark with an attractive and forceful bass. Another lovely voice was Lorenzo Grante as the Baron di Trombonok, who also did a fine job of playing emcee to the closing festivities, in which we get a popular song from each country. These include the Deutschlandlied and God Save the King: unsurprisingly, the Marseillaise doesn’t feature in an entertainment crafted in honour of a counter-revolutionary monarch. 

But perhaps what sums the piece up best is “A tal colpo inaspettato”, in which the whole cast sings a cappella in complex, multipart counterpoint. That was a perfect demonstration of the vocal talent on show. If this is the group of young people to whom the future of Rossinian singing has been entrusted, we’re in good hands.

The production was reviewed from the Rossini Festival live stream. A second performance takes place on Saturday 28th November.