Friday, May 31, 2019

A Rossini rarity, Il Viaggio a Reims, exhibits itself as an exuberant modern masterpiece for Opera Australia in Melbourne: Herald Sun Review

Published in print in Melbourne's Herald Sun and online 28th May 2019

Rossini never intended Il Viaggio a Reims to journey beyond a few performances. Commissioned to mark the coronation of French King Charles X in Reims in 1825, it wasn’t until 1984 that its once fragmented score was heard complete for the first time. What could have remained lost is a beguiling triumph of music plump with Rossini’s magical gift for melody and lush ornamentation.

The cast of Opera Australia's Il Viaggio a Reims
Hugely demanding it is too, for the 17 soloists it requires and the company that takes up its challenges. Rising to the occasion, however, Opera Australia’s new production makes it an exuberant modern masterpiece.

Damiano Michieletto, director of OA’s recent ingeniously devised Cav/Pag, returns with an equally inventive angle on Rossini’s work concerning a menagerie of characters travelling to Reims for the coronation festivities.

Mining the eccentricity in the original, Michieletto gives the characters new identities and moves the action from a spa hotel to a white-walled modernist art gallery. Characters reside in the real world, a picture world or, what generates much comic interplay, both.

Masterpieces worth millions come to life - a Van Gogh, Magritte, Botero and Goya among them, including a Keith Haring dancing man. Michieletto seems to imply that the world we look at in art can be transformational, that art mimics life and, as he so charmingly presents it, vice-versa. It’s a tongue-in-cheek take on Charles X's big day that leads to a spectacular conclusion you eventually see coming - no spoiler here.

Sian Sharp as Marchesa Melibea and Shanul Sharma as Conte di Libenskof 
In a long list of compelling performances, radiant Rossini-fit young tenor and newish to the ranks of OA, Shanul Sharma’s passionate Libenskof deserves special mention. As art auctioneer Don Profondo, Giorgio Caoduro’s precision rapid-fire vocals impress. Emma Pearson unleashes ravishing vocal and comic treats as Contessa di Folleville, Spanish soprano Ruth Iniesta sings in divine harmony to solo harp as Corinna and Teddy Tahu Rhodes plunges deep into an emotive Lord Sidney, art restorer. 

Privileged too it is with young Australian Daniel Smith conducting. Vitality, colour and playfulness were abundant on opening night and Orchestra Victoria, showcasing superb solo work, gave perfection. Worth travelling far and wide for!

Il Viaggio a Reims 
Opera Australia 
State Theatre, Arts Centre Melbourne 
Until 1st June, 2019

4.5 stars 

Production Photos: Prudence Upton

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