On the most part this production is very well done
Il Viaggio a Reims is Rossini's last Italian opera, and for me it is one of his overall best. The story may have some flimsiness(though it is still interesting) and the opera is extremely difficult to produce due to the number of principals and the expected standards, however the music is just outstanding in every possible way. I found this production very good on the whole.
Albeit not a perfect one. Kenneth Tarver has the flexibility for his role and is more than the singer with the great singing but not so great acting. But his voice is not to my taste, it is of a very thin timbre and the basic sound is rather dry. But Maria Bayo for me was the weak link of the production. She does show evidence of a beautiful voice, but also displays painfully flat colouratura and over-compensated stage acting. The back-projections in some scenes are of no relevance at all and can be seen as very distasteful.
On the other hand, the pros far outweigh the cons in this productions, and I'd go as far to say that much of the good things could be seen as outstanding. It is wonderful to see Enzo Dara again, he is one of the most consistent Rossini singers of the past forty years or so and even in 2003 he has lost none of his effortlessly funny sense of character on stage. Simon Orfila is also solid in his role, perhaps not as seasoned in Rossini as Dara but still shows similar attributes. Jose Bros vocally is superb, his tone is much easier on the ears than Tarver complete with great musicality and phrasing. He is also a charming actor.
Nicola Uliveri, while not in the same league as Ruggero Raimondi, is excellent as Don Profundo. Angel Odena has one really pleasant baritone voice that I'd love to hear more of. Mariola Canterero may not fit the bill of young and frivolous, but she doesn't disappoint at all otherwise. The standouts of the cast though are Elena De Al Merced and Paula Rasmussen. Merced is just stunning vocally, in perhaps the most showy of the roles(literally like vocal fireworks), and brings a refreshing amount of tenderness. Rasmussen has for me the best stage presence and voice of the production. Her vocals are that of real richness, which I don't always find in Rossini, and she cuts a commanding and fun figure on stage.
Visually, apart from the back projection, the production is fine. The costumes and sets are wonderfully elaborate with lots of colour. Some of the costumes are on the bizarre side, but I found that fitting with the opera. The stage direction constantly moves and is very funny at several points. And apart from a couple of disappointments vocally, the performance is musically outstanding. The orchestral playing is stylishly playful and beautifully lush, while the chorus are sincere and involving as well as blending and singing with a clear love for the music. Jesus Lopez-Cobos brings a a lot of vitality and experience to the conducting of the score. The highlight was the Concertato for 14 soloists, the best and most fiendishly part of score, which was electric.
In conclusion, a very good production that could have been even more. 8/10 Bethany Cox
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