Exaggerated movements, over-the-top wit and sensational music mark Gioacchino Rossini’s “Il Viaggio a Reims (The Trip to Reims).” Wichita State University’s opera department, consisting of both graduate and undergraduate students, will perform this beloved Italian classic.
“It’s a very amusing work,” said Marie Allyn King, the director of opera at WSU. “The music is exciting.”
The opera department puts on two shows a year, one in the spring and one in the fall. All the shows are performed in their original language. This helps the performers gain proficiency in German, Italian and French, three languages they are expected to study.
“I love the program,” said soprano Emily Moore, a graduate student from Minneapolis. “We’re given a lot of freedom.”
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Before each opera begins rehearsing, King gathers the performers, and they go over the script, including the arias, line by line.
“Marie coaches us with diction and characterization,” said mezzo-soprano Jennifer Weiman, a graduate student from Iowa.
King chose “Il Viaggio a Reims” because of its great roles and fun content. Originally written for the coronation of King Charles X of France, this opera features a cast of travelers who expect to attend the royal affair, but instead they get waylaid in the French Tyrol. This aristocratic group has representatives from several European nations.
“It’s very relationship-driven,” said Weiman, who portrays Marchesa Melibea, a Polish widow being pursued by Count di Libenskoff of Russia.
Senior leggiero tenor Brian Yeakley said that he usually plays a young character because of his voice, but as the count, he is able to play an older man who is both angry and jealous. This Wichita native, a graduate of North High School, also performs with the Wichita Grand Opera’s Young Artist Program.
King said each character is a bit over-the-top and each takes on their native country’s stereotypes. The German baron loves music, the Italian adores antiques, and the French countess, played by Moore, cherishes her possessions.
“She’s just a silly woman,” Moore said. “She’s very self-absorbed. I have this big long aria about my luggage being lost.”
The Polish widow, on the other hand, played by Weiman, is a take-charge personality.
“She’s a fiery, strong woman,” Weiman said. “She’s not willing to put up with the count’s garbage.”
Along with the Russian, Polish, French, German and Italian characters, Rossini brought in an English colonel, a Tyrolean hostess, a Spanish admiral, a Roman poet and a Greek girl. “Il Viaggio a Reims” had not been performed since its original showing at the 1825 coronation in Reims. In the 1970s, the music was reconstructed by musicologist Janet Johnson and Rossini specialist Philip Gossett.
Samuel Ramey, international opera star and a graduate of WSU’s opera program, played the English colonel in 1984 at the Rossini Opera Festival in Pesaro, Italy, at the first performance since the opera’s debut in the early 1800s. Rossini’s work plays heavily in the repertoire of Ramey and fellow WSU alumna and Grammy Award winner Joyce DiDonato.
King, who exposes students to many composers, became the head of WSU’s opera department 14 years ago. Before then, she performed and directed in many venues throughout the U.S. By presenting these 40 undergraduate and 15 graduate students with opportunities to perform at WSU and in Tuscany, Italy, in the summer, King hopes to empower the young performers to not only feel comfortable on stage, but to flourish. Several already have performed as young artists for Wichita Grand Opera and in summer programs across the country.
“Il Viaggio a Reims,” which requires 14 soloists plus a chorus, is not performed often. King hopes the public will come out and enjoy the work of these promising students, most of whom hope to go on to international careers.
“It’s always interesting to see what young people are doing,” King said. “The students are all excited and nervous, as it should be.”