Alemania

Inmates of Europe

Jesse Simon
lunes, 25 de junio de 2018
Viaggio a Reims by Bosse © Thomas Aurin, 2018 Viaggio a Reims by Bosse © Thomas Aurin, 2018
Berlin, viernes, 15 de junio de 2018. Deutsche Oper Berlin. Rossini: Il viaggio a Reims. Jan Bosse, director. Elena Tsallagova (Corinna), Vasilisa Berzhanskaya (Marchesa Melibea), Siobhan Stagg (Contessa di Folleville), Hulkar Sabirova (Madama Cortese), Gideon Poppe (Cavaliere Belfiore), David Portillo (Il Conte di Libenskof), Mikheil Kiria (Lord Sidney), Davide Luciano (Don Profondo), Philipp Jekal (Barone di Trombonok), Dong-Hwan Lee (Don Alvaro), Sam Roberts-Smith (Don Prudenzio), Juan de Dios Mateos (Zefirino), Alexandra Ionis (Maddalena), Meechot Marrero (Modestina), Davia Bouley (Delia) and Byung Gil Kim (Antonio). Orchestra of the Deutsche Oper Berlin. Giacomo Sagripanti, conductor
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In its first hour or so, Jan Bosse’s new production of Il viaggio a Reims raised numerous questions: who were all these people? What were they all doing in a hospital ward? Why are back projections still a thing? Instead of offering answers, Mr Bosse took a more intriguing path; midway through the opera, he quietly dispensed with any pretence of a unifying thread, and concentrated his energies on crafting individual scenes of elusive brilliance. Freed from the burden of a larger concept, the entire production began to shimmer like the dazzlingly artificial fabrics worn by most of the characters. If it never quite suggested a wholly coherent reading, it was also, in the end, very hard not to enjoy.

Rossini wrote Il viaggio to celebrate the coronation of Charles X of France, and was concerned more with creating a vocal showcase than a work of dramatic unity (indeed the opera was withdrawn after four performances and Rossini repurposed about half the score for Le Comte Ory … the original Viaggio was only reconstructed in the late 1970s). Yet in dispensing with the intricate plotting of his earlier operas, he ended up with a curiously timeless work that recalls the ‘strangers brought together by circumstance’ frame used by Boccaccio and Chaucer, while anticipating the reflexive comedy of Capriccio and the social critique of Buñuel’s Exterminating Angel.

Mr Bosse seized upon the absurdist potential of the spa-hotel setting, transforming the Inn of the Golden Lily into a Magic-Mountain-style sanatorium where figures representing the madness of modern Europe had gathered to sleep off their nervous exhaustion; the characters spent their days planning to leave, oblivious to the impossibility of escape. It was a fascinating premise – certainly the need for satire that doubles as a call for European unity is no less pressing in 2018 than it would have been in 1825 – but the production seemed content to allude to the idea rather than develop it. Instead it spent a lot of time trying to be sexy. The assortment of floral and animal prints assembled by costume designer Kathrin Plath was eye-catchingly campy, but the extravagance didn’t quite add up to the critique of modern Europe at which the evening’s finest moments seemed to hint.

The production’s unwillingness to dig deeper into its vague concept might have been more detrimental had the individual scenes not been handled with such obvious visual flair. The action took place within a large room made entirely of mirrored surfaces; the back wall could be raised to reveal a screen for back projections. The pre-filmed sequences added little, and the live video, in which the action on stage was repeated into infinity in a mise en abyme of digital feedback, was an interesting novelty – it created an appropriate visual chaos during the duet of Belfiore and Corinna – but seemed the least interesting of the production’s visual contrivances. 

The most successful scenes were brought about through the skilful layering of overlapping interactions. There were often many things going on at once, sometimes purely comedic, other times alluding to strands in the libretto that Rossini saw fit to leave undramatised: in the opening scene Don Alvaro spent a lot of time flirting with the Marquise at the back of the stage, the very act to which Libenskof would later take offence; during the finale of the second act, Belfiore and the Countess managed to reconcile independently of the main action. The production was, indeed, so rich in incident that it would require further viewings to catch all the call-backs and cross-references.

Yet as the scenes grew more concentrated and less dependent on their tenuous relationship to a central premise, they grew stronger, funnier and more engaging. Don Profondo’s magnificent aria, enumerating the personal effects of each character according to national stereotypes, was accompanied by each character removing their robes and hospital gowns to reveal silken boxers in the colours of their respective flags. It was a reasonable gag on its own, but grew in depth considerably when, at the end, the characters dropped their boxers to reveal EU-flag boxers underneath. The scene was such a potent mix of exuberant music, manic comedy and pointed political undertones that one wished the whole production could have been as sharply focussed. 

It nonetheless remained consistently fun, and set up an amiable frame around several fine performances. Elena Tsallagova was a superb Corinna: her first aria (Arpa gentil) was the most affecting part of the evening, a flawless construction of elegant line and unforced vocal purity, although her aria in celebration of Charles X was no less magnificent; and Hulkar Sabirova was a delightful Madame Cortese, holding the first scene together with an enchantingly sung Di vaghi raggi adorno. Davide Luciano’s Don Profondo emerged from the sidelines mid-way through the second act to deliver the evening’s most boisterous performance, a thrilling patter aria full of rhythmic vitality and gentle mocking humour; Vasilisa Berzhanskaya’s Marquise and David Portillo’s Libenskof were responsible for an excellent duet in the third act; and at the beginning of the second act, Mikheil Kiria’s Lord Sidney found an ideal middle ground between pathos and nobility (accompanied by the exceptional flute-playing of Anna Garzuly-Wahlgren, who appeared on stage as one of the nurses). 

With sixteen named characters, however, the evening was very much a triumph of ensemble, and the assembled singers seemed to be having a good time navigating the acrobatic lines of Rossini’s score and the oddball atmosphere of Mr Bosse’s staging. The sextet of the first act, during which the heightened passions of the group were soothed with injections of morphine, the voices achieved a woozy unity, while the even-more-demanding ensemble for fourteen voices that concludes the second act emerged with agility and assurance. Giacomo Sagripanti observed the sense of occasion in the score, sometimes adopting a stately pace but never neglecting the rhythmic fluidity necessary to keep the action moving; he rarely overplayed the sparkling climaxes, but his confident touch gave even the busiest scenes an easy clarity. 

In the production’s final moments it became apparent that the room was sealed and that there could be no escape for the opera’s collection of misfits; yet everyone was too busy celebrating to notice. For all their minor quarrels and cultural divides, the characters seemed to realise that their similarities ultimately outweighed their differences, and that if their fate was to be bound in such confined geographical proximity they had better make the best of it. The key to Mr Bosse’s staging was its ability to make that proximity seem alluring; it may have started as an unpromising madhouse, but by the end of the evening one was not unhappy to have spent time in such oddly compelling company.

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