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Thread: Il Viaggio a Reims at Wolf Trap Opera in Vienna, VA (Washington, DC metro area)

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  1. #1
    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    Il Viaggio a Reims at Wolf Trap Opera in Vienna, VA (Washington, DC metro area)

    Il Viaggio a Reims (1825)
    Music by Gioacchino Rossini
    Libretto by Luigi Balocchi

    New Production by the Wolf Trap Opera Company
    Sung in Italian with English supertitles
    Conductor – Gary Thor Wedow
    Stage Director – David Gately
    Scenic Design – Evan Adamson
    Costume Design – Paul Carey
    Chorus Master – Sean Kelly


    Staff of the Giglio D'Oro Inn & Spa
    Madama Cortese – Kiri Deonarine
    Dr. Prudenzio – Aaron Sorensen
    Maddalena – Shannon Jennings
    Antonio – Ben Edquist
    Zefirino – Benjamin Bliss
    Gelsomino – Brian Yeakley

    Hotel Guests by nationality
    La Contessa di Folleville – Ying Fang
    Il Cavaliere Belfiore – Brenton Ryan
    Modestina – Grace Newberry
    Don Luigino – Brian Yeakley
    Corinna – Andrea Carroll
    Delia – Anush Avetisyan
    Il Barone di Trombonok – Norman Garrett
    Lord Sidney – Brandon Cedel
    Don Profondo – Ryan Speedo Green
    La Marchesa Melibea
    Il Conte di Libenskof – Juan José de Léon
    Don Alvaro – Steven LaBrie


    Il Viaggio a Reims could be called Rossini's concert opera. Its thin plot seems to be there just as an excuse for displaying several arias and ensembles one after another, including a finale that feels like a gala evening when each main character is invited to come forward and sing a song from his or her home country. Rossini only intended this piece to be exactly like that – a celebratory occasion commissioned for the coronation of Charles X at the cathedral in Reims, to be performed for the new king and his family in June of 1825. Rossini never thought that this piece would survive as a full opera, given what he realized would be a difficult enterprise for opera companies, who would have to gather a large number of bel canto virtuosi to perform it on stage. Therefore, having fulfilled the terms of his commission and having pocketed his money, Rossini yanked out the piece after a few performances (in spite of how well received it was), dismantled it, and recycled its music into other pieces, most notably Le Comte Ory, which received 50% of its music from Il Viaggio a Reims. For 150 the latter was lost, but a manuscript was rediscovered in the 1970's, enabling musicologists Janet Johnson and Philip Gossett (an Opera Lively interviewee) to reconstruct the piece, and ever since it has enjoyed a rather significant revival, some sources quoting it as being nowadays the fourth most performed Rossini opera. It's been recorded on CD and DVD a few times, including a DVD containing a delightful traveling production from the Academy of Young Singers of the Mariinsky Theatre, visiting the Châtelet under the baton of Maestro Valery Gergiev, and another choice performance conducted by Claudio Abbado (who actually recorded it twice) and featuring Sam Ramey.

    Another element of interest is that this is Rossini's last opera in Italian. Given that at the point he already had the intention of moving to Paris, unsurprisingly he lavishly praised the French monarch in his finale. The composer seemed to be cultivating already his standings in France. He was obviously also having lots of fun, since he seemed to mock the art form of opera itself – for example, by composing a bona fide fully tragic aria for a character who is lamenting… the loss of her fashionable gowns when her luggage is caught in a traffic accident! Also, Rossini made fun of the whole European aristocracy by assigning to each character exaggerated colors of their respective national traits (the French fashionista, the proud Russian, the hot-blooded Spaniard, and so forth. Some of the characters are based on real life figures and heroines of popular novels during Rossini's time.

    Just like the Mariinsky Academy of Young Singers, a company that specializes in the training of young singers is ideally suited to stage Il Viaggio a Reims, since they have at their disposition a body of singers of all fachs that can fulfill the slots in Rossini's demanding vocal score. Wolf Trap Opera Company is just this kind of organization, with an experienced ensemble of instrumentalists, conductors, and directors, providing to young artists an opportunity to perform in a summer festival format.

    Therefore, I made the trip up to the Washington, DC area with good expectations, and they weren't disappointed. First of all, the setting is really pleasant: WTOC performs in a national park for the arts with plenty of green spaces (trees and lawns), including an open air theater with area for picnics (The Filene Center), and a second venue called The Barns, which is what the name indicates: a small opera house (about 375 seats) inside an old barn. Food and drinks are permitted in the seating area even during performances, and they offer an array of gourmet sandwiches, cheese, and wine. Given that not all instruments fit in the small pit, for this piece a harpsichord was sitting on the left wing, and a harp on the right wing. Adding to the pleasure, this writer and his wife met for the performance Opera Lively members tyroneslothrop and Hoffman, and enjoyed their hospitality and their choice of excellent restaurants in the area, for a very entertaining Sunday.

    While the acoustics in The Barn have a reputation for being less than ideal (which is understandable given the kind of structure it is in), our excellent seats on third row center did not allow us to suffer from any muffled sounds so it is hard to pass judgment on this.

    The production updates the opera to the 1920's, taking full advantage of the hedonism and colorful clothing of that era, when Europe was trying to embrace the good life after the trying years of World War I. Settings are very tasteful and pretty, and costumes are impeccable. Stage direction was one of the high points of the show, given very skilful blocking while moving around all these singing and silent roles, and original and funny solutions to the updated environment that recovered very well the spirit of the piece: in the name of Rossini's multiple mocking references to the art form itself and to the high society in his era, the creative team introduced references to the 1920's as well, and to works and luminaries of the time, such as Sigmund Freud, and the operas of Wagner, Offenbach, and Alban Berg, to hilarious effect (such as when neurotic Lord Sidney gets a hotel staff member to sit behind him taking notes, like in a psychoanalytic session, and when during an aria the soprano mimics Olympia in The Tales of Hoffmann, including the appropriate sound effects.

    Another notable aspect of this charming production was the high quality of the acting of most young artists on stage. Comic flair was excellent and several laughing-out-loud moments came from the antics exhibited by the cast.

    The small orchestra did well, and so did the conductor, who tried his best to provide support to these young singers in those stretches of Rossini crescendos and patter songs that can be quite difficult for less than highly trained professionals.

    The singing as expected was uneven. However, some gems among the artists did hit the bull's eye with some rather promising performances.

    Most impressive was Chinese soprano Ying Fang, a graduate of the Shanghai Conservatory and the Juilliard School, in the role of La Contessa di Folleville, with Maryland native soprano Andrea Carroll as Corinna being a close second (she did her training at the Manhattan School of Music and Houston Grand Opera Studio). Both these ladies delivered very polished singing, with good and agile coloratura and excellent projection, not to forget that they are both accomplished actresses who presented a very believable rendition of their over-the-top characters. Ryan Speedo Green, bass-baritone who hails from Suffolk, Virginia and has been to the Lindemann Program, was simply excellent as Don Profondo, appearing like he doesn't require any more training before being hired by some substantial houses. Juan José de Léon, the young tenor from Texas, as Il Conte di Libenskof was able to overcome a shaky start with a bit of trouble holding the pitch for the higher notes, to then treat us to a powerful tenor instrument once he warmed up. His timbre and projection made me think of another Juan, the Diego Flórez, who must have sounded like Mr. de Léon when he was this young man's age. One to be followed! The comprimario role of Antonio was surprisingly well done by Ben Edquist, a baritone coming out of Vanderbilt University. Israeli Mary Lahyani who has trained at the Adler and the Merola in San Francisco and played La Marchesa Melibea, is a good actress and a more than decent mezzo-soprano, while soprano Kiri Deonarine as Madama Cortese did much less well, sounding overpowered by her peers and the orchestra. Bass-baritone Brandon Cedel from Pennsylvania as Lord Sidney while being a fine actor could use a lot of help in his subsequent vocal training, and the same, to a lesser degree, can be said of Texan baritone Steven LaBrie as Don Alvaro. Between these two extremes of the group of young singers who did very well and those who didn't, the remaining members of the cast fell on various points in between. Aaron Sorensen, bass from Omaha, Nebraska, is to be commended for his acting and comic stage presence.

    Overall, this production is extremely entertaining – charming is the adjective that keeps coming to my mind over and over – and well worth the trip to the Washington DC area for those who are at driving distance. The run is still ongoing, one last performance being scheduled for Saturday, June 29, at 7 PM. Look for tickets at – hopefully a few can still be snatched although like I said the venue is very small.

    This was my first trip to Wolf Trap Opera Company, and if this performance is a good sample of what they do, attending their new production of La Traviata on July 19 at the Filene Center should be another interesting idea – it features the extremely good-looking young soprano Corinne Winters who did very well at the English National Opera in the same role of Violetta, and the excellent National Symphony Orchestra will be playing.

    Some pictures:

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    Above, in order, Ryan Speedo Green, Kiri Deonarine, Andrea Carroll, Brenton Ryan, and Ying Fang
    Credit unknown, fair use for promotional purpose
    Last edited by Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva); June 26th, 2013 at 12:45 AM.
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

  2. #2
    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    Name:  Wolf Trap Opera 010.jpg
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    The colorful sets

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    The Barn

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    The left side of the sets; the harpsichord player is visible

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    The small pit; the drums had to be placed behind the door

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    The harp player mingles with the public

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    Intermission: concessions

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    Outside The Barn

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    The score

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    The view from our seats during Act III

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    Curtain calls
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

  3. #3
    Staff Writer & Reviewer - Life-time Donor Veteran Member Jephtha's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Almaviva View Post
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    The score
    I see the score has finally been published! When I learned the obbligato flute part to Lord Sidney's aria in 1986, I had to read it from a piece of manuscript. These young whippersnappers have it so easy nowadays!
    How far that little candle throws his beams!
    So shines a good deed in a naughty world.

    The Merchant of Venice, V, i.

  4. #4
    Opera Lively Staff Member Top Contributor Member Hoffmann's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jephtha View Post
    I see the score has finally been published! When I learned the obbligato flute part to Lord Sidney's aria in 1986, I had to read it from a piece of manuscript. These young whippersnappers have it so easy nowadays!
    Ah, but think how much better off you are for the experience!

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