The Journey to Rheims

A surprise at the Liverpool Philharmonic Hall


A Surprise at the Philharmonic
picIt was with a feeling of great excitement and anticipation that we were walking along Hope Street towards the Philharmonic Hall on that cool February evening, looking forward to a pleasant concert of light classical music on this our very first visit to this architectural gem, the home of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra. Knowing only one of the items in the programme but being vaguely familiar with the composers featured we guessed the pieces would be to our taste and prepared ourselves to be entertained with some interesting and mostly new (to us) material. I have vague schoolboy memories of attending a lecture at the Philharmonic Hall in the late fifties given by Professor Eric Laithwaite from Manchester University, he was demonstrating magnetic levitation and the new propulsion systems (linear motors) he and his team were developing, and setting out his vision for a twenty first century revolution in transport. It only recently occurred to me that after all these years I might like to hear a concert at this state of the art (deco) music venue.

The programme was to include two pieces by Mozart the "Prague" symphony and the choral "Exsultate, Jubilate" and two from Rossini the "Thieving Magpie" overture and Contessa di Folleville's aria "Partir, o ciel! Desio" (from the opera The Journey to Rheims) with Haydn's "Surprise" symphony thrown in for dessert. I enjoyed the Rossini aria so much I was intrigued to find out more about the opera and later obtained a recording (Deutsche Grammophon 00289 477 7435). The opera was written for a specific event in 1825 and by all accounts has been rarely performed since, indeed a lot of the music was used in a later opera by this very prolific composer. Although a relatively simple comic opera in one act it has always been quite a challenge and rather expensive to stage requiring fourteen soloists, the popular overture we often hear played today was apparently not included in the original, being added much later at a subsequent revival.

The opera is set in the Hotel Fleur de Lys in the Tyrol and features a collection of European aristocrats and other worthy characters including the Englishman Lord Sidney, travelling to the coronation of King Charles X in Rheims (most French kings were crowned there) and recounts the flirtations, rivalries and intrigues which develop amongst the guests. No doubt caused by the heady atmosphere and the clear mountain air, several awkward situations transpire worthy of any Whitehall farce culminating in disaster when the widowed Countess Folleville's luggage is lost in a coaching accident. Her whole world falls apart as she slowly realises she will have to cancel her journey and take no further part in high society's celebration of the decade. Her arias in the opera reflect her hopes, expectations, trials and tribulations, descending into woeful lamentations as the fairy story draws to its, for her, rather tragic conclusion. One interesting feature of this now rather obscure opera is the inclusion of delightful vocal arrangements of three national anthems, "God Save the King" (presumably not the Queen, George IV was on the throne at the time) sung by Lord Sidney, followed by similar versions of "Deutschland Uber Alles" and "La Marseillaise" sung by his German and French counterparts.

picThe Haydn was of course very enjoyable but the real surprise of the evening was the Italian female soprano soloist Desiree Rancatore who performed the very "colourful" Mozart and Rossini with amazing aplomb and assurance making these technically difficult pieces look and sound really easy. She executed the recurring arpeggios with impeccable timing and breath control and with a consistency of tonal quality throughout the range seldom heard. Never have I heard such beautiful pieces of music performed better, no doubt the conductor and orchestra had a great influence in setting the correct tempo at the start (too fast or slow could have spelled disaster) but this lady is a talented and accomplished singer with a remarkably sweet musical tone and someone I hope to hear again in the future. Isn't it funny how the most enjoyable experiences happen quite unexpectedly, you just can't plan them you just have to be in the right mood!

Palfreyman, December 2011

Farthingale Publications:... Is a hobby web site containing articles of local interest to Lancastrians, some favourite walking and cycling routes, selected words and poetry, and some writings of more general nature as well as the authors own picture gallery. Access is available via the homepage and menu at the head of the page.