It was Claudio Abbado who brought Rossini’s Il viaggio a Reims back onto the scene with a star-studded production at Pesaro in the mid-80s. He brought the work to Berlin, too, in 1992 with similarly star-studded concert performances with the Berlin Philharmonic – both that and the early Pesaro account were recorded.

<i>Il viaggio a Reims</i> © Thomas Aurin
Il viaggio a Reims
© Thomas Aurin

Rossini’s last opera in Italian was conceived as an occasion piece for the finest singers of the day, and it’s maybe no surprise that the Deutsche Oper can’t come close to the sort of casting that Abbado was able to afford. At the house on Bismarkstraße the work becomes less a parade piece for an array of stars than ensemble showcase, with a few necessary guests to fill up the numbers: the work requires no fewer than 14 soloists.

Il viaggio was originally composed for the coronation of Charles X and after its first performances in 1825 sank into obscurity, with Rossini repurposing much of the score – a glorious distillation of all his wit, melodic grace, rhythmic verve and subversiveness – for Le Comte Ory. Here Giacomo Sagripanti made an eloquent case for it, drawing playing from the Deutsche Oper orchestra of grace and flexibility and letting it fizz along merrily under its own steam – something that, given the wafer-thin plot, it needs to be able to do. That thinness of plot is, of course, less the conductor’s concern than the director’s, and Jan Bosse certainly can’t be accused of a lack of effort in bringing out laughs from what’s not much more than a parade of arias leading to a grand finale.

He replaces the Hôtel du Lys d’Or where guests on their way to Reims are holed up unable to continue their journey with some sort of sanatorium, chaotically run by Alexandra Ionis’s nurse Maddalena. The programme included quotations from Thomas Mann’s Magic Mountain, Stéphane Laimé’s was reminiscent of Richard Jones’ children’s hospital staging of Suor Angelica, while the inability of these aristocratic guests to get moving also reminded me obliquely of The Exterminating Angel. Otherwise, though, this was a show of broad comedy: plenty of gags, some better than others, and none generally improving on repetition.

<i>Il viaggio a Reims</i> © Thomas Aurin
Il viaggio a Reims
© Thomas Aurin

It was difficult not to admire the energy of it all, and Bosse (and Kathrin Plath’s bright costumes) certainly didn’t shy away from the work’s reliance on national stereotypes. A definite highlight was Davide Luciano’s sparkling performance of Don Profondo’s aria, the guests lining up to reveal silky boxers in their national colours – in turn stripped off to reveal allegiance to the EU. The director can hardly be blamed, one feels, for losing steam after the interval, especially in the parade of a finale that turns into a paean to the King.

There were several fine performances from the large cast, with Elena Tsallagova’s serene Corinna – appearing goddess-like, accompanied by an on-stage harpist (Virginie Gout-Zschäbitz), for her opening aria. Hulkar Sabirova was a reassuringly robust Madame Cortese and Siobhan Stagg was impressive as the Contessa di Folleville, although I was left unconvinced by the decision to have her maid, Modestina (Meechot Marrero), fuss around her excessively in a state of childlike dependency. Of the other men, Mikheil Kiria stood out as Lord Sidney, beautifully accompanied by flautist Saraha Louvion on stage.

Ultimately, though, despite several fine performances, there was a sense that this opera does need a little more vocal stardust than it got here, while the brightness and energy of Bosse’s production – very admirably sustained by a cast clearly enjoying itself enormously – brought diminishing returns as the evening progressed.

***11