Anastasia Belyaeva (Madame Cortese), Larissa Youdina (Contessa di Folleville), Olga Kitchenko (Modestina), Anna Kiknadze (Marchesa Melba), Irma Guigolachvili (Corinna), Elena Sommer (Maddalena), Daniil Shtoda (Count Libenskof), Alexeï Tannovistski (Don Prudenzio), Alexeï Safiouline (Don Alvaro), Dmitri Voropaev (Belfiore), Edouard Tsanga (Lord Sidney), Vladislav Ouspenski (Baron von Trombonok), Nikolaï Kamenski (Don Profondo), Andreï Iliouchnikov (Don Luigino)

Chorus and Orchestra of the Mariinsky Theatre c. Valery Gergiev, p. Alain Maratrat, d. Pascal Merat video director Vincent Bataillon 

Opus Arte 0967 D (135 minutes) 


This must be an age of excess in the operatic DVD market, as this is the second version of Rossini's lavish rediscovered piece d'occasion available. This co-production between the Mariinsky and the Chatelet is taken from performances in Paris in 2005 and showcases young singers from the Academy of the Mariinsky Theatre, run by Gergiev's sister, Larissa Gergieva. Given that this piece, written as part of the celebrations surrounding the coronation of King Charles X, was conceived for some of the most famous singers of Rossini's time, its performance by young singers from an alien vocal tradition might seem foolhardy; but, such is the sense of style and ensemble instilled in the Mariinsky, with the results infectious and enjoyable, if not always idiomatic. Since this score's rediscovery in the 1980's it has been widely performed, notably with Claudio Abbado conducting two CD versions with starry casts. The previous DVD version, from Barcelona in 2003, has a strong, if not well known cast, but is capsized by a production that attempts meaningful contemporary political relevance. Wisely, it must be said, this production, while slyly differentiating the competing nationalities, eschews the obvious and relies upon a light hearted character-driven bonhomie to show the harmony of the nations, personified by a group of illustrious European guests stranded at the Golden Lily Inn and forced to co-operate en route to Reims. 


This apoltical approach fosters a production which is simple and neutral, relying on the interplay amongst characters in a very detailed fashion, indeed. The orchestra, dressed in white, with white music stands, occupies the rear of the stage; and the arias that feature obbligato instruments, such as flute and harp, feature the players interacting with the singers. From a crowd of be-hatted travellers, Maestro Gergiev emerges and retains his headgear throughout. The Contessa di Folleville, bemoaning her lost hat, has it restored to her through the audience. Baron von Trombonok first appears to be the lead trombone in the orchestra, only to be revealed as a character in the opera.  All this is surprising and frothy, suiting the flippancy of the piece. The costumes, in particular that of the poetess Corinna, who, at her first appearance, resembles a marron candyfloss, are stylish, differentiating the characters and nationalities well. 


Gergiev gets very stylish Rossini playing from the Mariinsky forces - maybe not as diamond-cut rhythmically as Abbado, but warmer, playfully phrased and pacy. The singers work very well as an ensemble and there are notable turns from Anastasia Belyaeva as Madame Cortese (a dead-ringer for Annette Bening), whose slightly oboish morbidezza contrasts well with the brightness and occasional shrillness of Larissa Youdina's clothes-crazed Contessa, though it must be said that not only is her coloratura spot on, but she is a winning actress, as well. The two tenors are well contrasted, and Daniil Shtoda almost steals the show as the eupeptic Count Libenskof, his heroic, stentorian singing nicely undermined by his sense of the ridiculous; and there is an endearing comic turn by Nikolai Kamenski as Don Profondo. Only Irma Guigolachvili's rather bumpy legato and lack of breath control betray inexperience here, which is a shame, as Corinna has some of the plums in this irresistible score. This performance must have been hugely enjoyable in the theatre and it transfers very well to disc. 


© Julian Grant 2007