Il Viaggio a Reims
DIRECTOR: Matthew Wild
CAST: Members of the Cape Town Opera Studio and students of the UCT Opera School and UCT Symphony Orchestra
CONDUCTOR: Kamal Khan
CHOREOGRAPHER: Sean Bovim
VENUE: Baxter Theatre
FROM opening sequence to final tableau, there is an atmosphere of mild insanity pervading this ebullient production of Rossini’s Il Viaggio a Reims, which, although less well known than most of the composer’s other works, offers the abundant musical reward that has ensured his appeal since the early 19th century.
The plot’s zaniness, matched by that of the characters in the sizeable cast, perfectly suits the energy and attitude of young executants, and director Matthew Wild brings his own distinctive impishness to the staging and especially the detail of this opera.
Action is divided between the Aeropuerto Internacional and the Golden Lily, an airport transit hotel and spa catering to the whims of some inordinately eccentric celebs waiting for passage to Reims to attend the inauguration of the new French president. There is one delay/setback/problem after another, so the theme of serial frustration (a backbone of comedy) is an essential part of the storyline. The plot is further complicated by the love affairs, past, present and future, of the personae.
Leopold Senekal’s brilliant set, with its busy sides framing the central arena of action, has all the recognisable logos, directions and signs associated with airports; scene-changes are slick, with witty touches like the FedEx delivery by helicopter of a life-saving hat for a fashion-obsessed Contessa (whose attire makes Lady Gaga look conservative). Structures descend and ascend, with performers atop them unfazed by vertigo.
Among the latter is the dainty soprano Linda Nteleza, who sings the technically demanding role of Corinna with aplomb beyond her years. Also noteworthy is the performance, both vocal and theatrical, of award-winning tenor Khanyiso Gwenxane as the raunchy heart-throb Chevalier Belfiore.
Johannes Slabbert’s tongue-in-cheek sentimentality as the love-sick Lord Sydney is a pleasing cameo adding to the cast’s diverse, multi-layered texture.
Sean Bovim’s imaginative choreography adds visual impact to the chorus, singers who traditionally just group and deliver; in this case they move with intent and muster expressive grace with hand and arm gestures, which is particularly attractive in the large tableaux of the opera.
Under Kamal Khan’s persuasive baton the UCT Symphony Orchestra plays with a spirit to match the hectic pace of events and the liveliness of the singers, making this an exceptionally vivid and satisfying production.