Art and opera afford all sorts of ways to look at ourselves, our world and our history. In one of the many vivid and tantalising tableaux in director Damiano Michieletto's new production of Il viaggio a Reims, the subjects of a series of familiar paintings hanging in a modern gallery come to life splendidly, parading through the space observing and silently commenting on the others that hang around them - a Van Gogh self-portrait, Magritte's apple-nosed "The Son of Man", Botero's "Melancholia", Goya's "The Duchess of Alba" among them, as well as a Keith Haring dancing man.
The way in which Michieletto both transposes the story of Rossini's staged rarity and turns it inside out is reminiscent of what radical art critic John Berger once stated, "I can't tell you what art does and how it does it, but I know that often art has judged the judges". Known for his own insightful and unconventional style, Michieletto's inspired way of seeing has art even judging itself in this new coproduction first seen at Dutch National Opera last year and completing its current run at Teatro dell'Opera di Roma.
|Il viaggio a Reims, Teatro dell'Opera di Roma|
In Michieletto's twist, the Golden Lily spa hotel, at which the travellers stop on route, becomes the Golden Lilium Gallery, a white-walled and down-lit modernist exhibition space that fills the stage as part of Paolo Fantin's crisp designs. Characters either reside in the real world, a picture world or, what generates much comic interplay, both. For all this, Carla Teti's meticulous costumes and Alessandro Carletti's evocative lighting create a wondrously captivating effect.
If Michieletto is saying anything during the course of this slowly cooking surreal world, apart from giving his audience a crack at Berger's ways of seeing, it's perhaps that the world we look at in art can be transformational, that art does mimic life and, as he majestically presents it, vice-versa. It seems a far cry from Charles X's big day but Michieletto ingeniously brings into the picture François Gérard's 1825 painting, "The coronation of Charles X”, to be unveiled at the exhibition opening. In what leads to a spectacle-rich conclusion, characters that appear to have stepped out of one painting (something of an unappreciated and tired Classical Roman-set historical Enlightenment work) over the course of the day, take their place to recreate Gérard's painting in a magnificent tableau vivant that subsequently morphs into the 'real' (photo image) of the work.
|Il viaggio a Reims, Teatro dell'opera do Roma|
For this final performance, some of the lead roles were taken by the second cast who stepped into their parts with aplomb. Other roles were filled with a young batch of developing singers who, for the most part, meet the demands but whose vocal enthusiasm at times obstructed the underlying heart of their music.
Madame Cortese, who soprano Valentina Varriale sung with lovely embroidered elegance and ample richness, is the gallery curator, a stylish, bespectacled and hard-nailed sort who is preparing for the exhibition opening. Smooth and oaky bass-baritone Nicola Ulivieri distinguished himself superbly as Don Profondo, scholar and lover of antiquities in the original, here a learned fine art auctioneer. Soprano Adriana Ferfecka shone honourably as Corinna, a coy art student, opening up with delightfully sweet lyricism and taking it away in her radiantly secure final extended aria.
After an unremarkable start to the busy preparations at Madame Cortese's gallery, the purity and agility of Maria Aleida's honeyed soprano was the first to impress as Countess Folleville, the fashionable, bonneted young widow. Rossini's Lord Sidney, is a restoration technician who falls in love with the woman in the painting he is working on and was depicted with a refined and mellowed romantic sensibility by bass Adrian Sâmpetrean. An excellent display also came from suave-voiced baritone Davide Giangregorio as the check-shirted, hard-hatted foreman, Antonio, and Cecilia Molinari's rich, dark and exquisite Melibea.
Characterful bass Bruno De Simone, singing the role of Barone di Trombonok as a dishevelled history painting subject, becomes the dignified archbishop in the final tableaux. Not so fulfilling were the tenors on the night but Cristian Collia acquitted himself admirably as Zefirino and Juan Francisco Gatell developed nicely with his warmth and luminosity as Belfiore.
A well-prepared large chorus of cleaners, white overalled exhibition labourers and gallery staff worked the music and stage with great appeal. What emanated from the pit under conductor Stefano Montanari, however, despite the fine musicianship on show and eloquence of style, failed to consistently deliver Rossini's inimitable effervescence.
All in all, Michieletto's production worked its magic but knowing who is who in Rossini's menagerie and who they are represented as in Michieletto's interpretation takes a little getting used to.
Teatro dell'Opera di Roma
Until 24th June.
Production Photos: Yasuko Kageyama