The date of posting this blog marks the anniversary of the premiere of a difficult-to-categorise stage work, and the anniversary of its world premiere complete recording. Rossini’s Il viaggio a Reims (The Trip to Reims) was first presented to the public on 19 June 1825. Naxos introduced the first recording of the complete work to its catalogue in June of last year. In assuming that the dramma giocoso isn’t well known to many readers of our blog, I thought we could take a quick trip through its score by way of an introduction.
“Occasional works scarcely ever live on after the event for which they were written.” This was the reaction of the critics in Paris, who regretted the rapid disappearance of Il viaggio a Reims following its premiere on 19 June 1825. Rossini himself did not believe that his “little occasional work” (petite pièce de circonstance) could have any chance of a future: he withdrew Il viaggio a Reims from an enthusiastic public after only four performances. Three years later, however, he resurrected long stretches of it in his opera Le comte Ory.
During the geo-political flux of the time, Rossini regularly composed for the Bourbon court in Naples, including cantatas for birthdays, recoveries from illness and visits – all occasions which took place on one particular day, before normal business was resumed. Il viaggio a Reims was written to celebrate the coronation of Charles X; but the king soon fell out of favour and any resurrection of the work became unthinkable. The work was revived, however, in Pesaro in 1984, since when it has regularly bobbed up in a number of productions, often in small theatres and conservatories.
And so to our journey; or, at least, the prelude to it. The work opens with all the guests who are travelling to attend the coronation of the new king assembled at The Inn of the Golden Fleur-de-lys in Plombières. Among them is the fashion-mad Countess of Folleville, who becomes distressed on hearing that the coach carrying her wardrobe has been involved in an accident. A little hat is salvaged, however, and the Countess gives effusive thanks to the gods for this happy act of providence.
Scene 7: Aria: Che miro! ah! qual sorpresa! (8.660382-84)
The Spaniard Don Alvaro arrives with the Polish Marquise Melibea, who is looking forward to being on the journey in the company of such distinguished people. Libenskof, a Russian Count, is jealous because Don Alvaro is courting his beloved Melibea. Despite attempts at reconciliation they are both at loggerheads. Two other travellers, Don Profondo and Baron von Trombonok, make the philosophical point that love makes grown men childish.
Scene 11: Non pavento alcun periglio
Suddenly the sound of harps rings out in the background and they hear the Roman poetess Corinna expressing her thanks for a golden age of brotherly love. They all appear spellbound, forget about their quarrels and unite in joyful voice.
Scene 11: Simbol di pace e gloria
We now meet the Englishman Lord Sidney, who is secretly in love with Corinna. Lovesick, he tries to tear Cupid’s arrow from his heart and while the chorus sings in praise of Corinna’s grace and modesty, Lord Sidney dwells on thoughts of his yearning passion.
Scene 12: Dell’alma diva
Thickening this amorous plot, we now meet Belfiore, an elegant French officer, who is the Countess of Folleville’s lover. He has also decided to win over the beautiful Corinna and throws himself at her feet. Corinna is not impressed by the philanderer and threatens to call people in. But Belfiore is convinced that Corinna, like all women, is only pretending for the sake of protocol and that she will weaken sooner or later.
Scene 15: Dunque non v’èsperanza?
Don Alvaro and Count Libenskof ask impatiently about the reason for the delay in departing for the coronation, when the terrible news arrives that the proposed journey will have to be cancelled. No horses are to be had anywhere, either for hire or sale, because they have all long since been reserved for the journey to Reims. All the guests react with dismay to this unexpected blow, but Madame Cortese hurries in with a comforting letter which she has just received from her husband in Paris: the king is expected back in the capital where a great celebration is being prepared; all those who were unable to make it to Reims for the coronation will be able to take solace from the celebrations in Paris. The Countess of Folleville impulsively offers the entire group accommodation in her Paris house. They all take up this idea with great enthusiasm, delighted at being able to outwit fate.
Scene 20: Fra dolci e cari palpiti
While waiting for the following day’s departure, they decide to hold a public celebration of their own in the hotel’s garden, having secured the services of a travelling group of singers and dancers. The Baron von Trombonok announces the order in which the toasts should be made, each of which reflects the national style of the proposer’s homeland. The Englishman claims to be unmusical but of course he knows the English national anthem with which he toasts the next Bourbon generation, the Duke of Bordeaux, and the French people.
Canzone inglese: Dell’aurea pianta
After a hymn of praise from Corinna, likenesses of the royal family and of the most famous French kings appear on banners. After some short dances Belfiore, followed by all the others, toasts the king, and the festivities conclude with a vivat to France and her valiant ruler.
Scene 26: Viva il diletto augusto regnator