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Il Viaggio Travels to Philadelphia

Prince Music Theater
05/06/2009 -  & May 8, 10, 2009
Gioachino Rossini: Il Viaggio a Reims
Kirsten MacKinnon (Maddalena), Joseph Barron (Don Prudenzio), Brandon Cedel (Antonio), Marquita Raley (Madama Cortese), Rinnat Moriah (Contessa di Folleville), Evan Boyer (Barone di Trombonok), Alan Boxer (Don Profondo), Kevin Ray (Don Alvaro), Allison Sanders (Marchese Melibea), Joshua Stewart (Conte di Libinskof), Elizabeth Reiter (Corinna), Evan Hughes (Lord Sidney), Diego Silva (Belfiore), Jason Coffey (Zefiro), Shir Rozzen (Delia), Sarah Shafer (Modestina)
Benjamin Shwartz (conductor)
Chas Rader-Shieber (stage director), Judy Gailen (set designer), Clint Ramos (costume designer), Leonore Doxsee (lighting designer)

E. Hughes & E. Reiter (© Courtesy of The Curtis Institute of Music)

The Curtis Opera Theatre introduced Il Viaggio a Reims to Philadelphia in 1995 in concert performances featuring a talented cast led by Juan Diego Flórez as Belfiore. Now, 14 years later, Curtis is staging a dazzling production of Rossini’s opera filled with wit and style. Benjamin Shwartz, a Curtis alumnus who now serves as the resident conductor of the San Francisco Symphony, leads a vivacious musical performance. Jumping into the air like a young Leonard Bernstein, Shwartz shapes Rossini’s mercurial score with an effervescent hand that lays bare the sparkling rhythms and bracing melodies. Under his buoyant baton, the great first-act finale explodes with vital energy.

Chas Rader-Shieber and his designers – Judy Gailen (scenery) and Clint Ramos (costumes) – craft a witty, winning production. Gailen provides a handsome backdrop for Rader-Shieber’s staging. A series of stairs and platforms are flanked by panels and doorways decked with crowns, fleurs-de-lis and the composer’s monogram. The set invites the director to choreograph his cast in a breathless series of entrances and exits. The housekeeper and her staff – decked out in white uniforms – are working in a spa that caters to aristocrats on their way to the coronation of the King of France. Wearing white robes and comfy slippers, the characters gossip and flirt in a series of encounters Rader-Shieber mines for comedy. Rader-Shieber deftly defines each of the characters. The spa’s blustering doctor (Joseph Barton) appears with an enema bag hanging around his neck. The hotel steward (Brandon Cedel) is constantly scratching an itch. The Contessa di Folleville, dressed in a short robe and wearing dark glasses and sparkling earrings, teeters on stage on a pair of pink high heels. Rader-Shieber maneuvers the cast through the first-act sextet as they rove across the stage on wheeled carts. In the finale, Ramos transforms the characters into noble figures with a series of glamorous costumes that reflect their rank and privilege.

The action bubbles and froths. So does the singing. The youthful cast is not flawless. Some vibratos are a bit too wide for Rossini. A few top notes miss their target and some of the roulades are sketched rather than sung. But the young singers perform with such energy and propulsion, the faults barely register. They exult in some of the most difficult music Rossini wrote for the singing voice and they deliver it with joy and spirit. Flaunting her willowy legs and blonde hair, Rinnat Moriah camps up the Contessa’s every appearance. Allison Sanders booms out the Marchesa Melibea’s music with plenty of thrust and caps the evening with bold singing in the duet with Conte di Libenskof (Joshua Stewart). Accompanied by the golden flute of Maron Khoury, Evan Hughes sings Lord Sidney’s solo scene with a mellow, pliant bass. In Corinna’s strophic arias, Elizabeth Reiter’s pure-toned soprano floats radiantly. The singing and the production generate a storm of applause from the capacity audience.

Robert Baxter



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