Special Event, Special Music: Rossini's 'Journey to Reims'

The opera is in one long act, though for this presentation it's broken into three parts. The complete title is "The Journey to Reims, or The Hotel of the Golden Lily."  That refers to the grand hotel in the little spa town of Plombières, where PART ONE opens.

Aristocrats from all over Europe have gathered, on their way to the coronation festivities.  At the hotel, Maddalena supervises the housekeeping staff. The cautious hotel doctor, Don Prudenzio, asks the manager, Antonio, to show him the food that's been prepared so he can examine it. The hotel's owner, Madame Cortese, urges everyone to take good care of their many illustrious guests.

Rossini has a bit of fun with the characters' names in this opera.  There's the cautious doctor, whose name means "prudence."  And we soon discover that one of the guests is the Countess of Folleville -- a play on the French word "folle," which means kooky, or foolish. She's in a tizzy because the coach carrying her luggage has been in an accident, and she's afraid her fashionable wardrobe is lost.

A German music-lover -- named Baron Trombonok -- is watching all the comings and goings and reflecting on the human comedy. He also serves as a sort of group treasurer, in charge of the travelers' money. The Baron is interrupted by Don Profondo, an Italian antique collector and intellectual, who wants to pay his share of the costs. Don Alvaro, a Spanish nobleman arrives together with a Polish Marquise named Melibea -- it seems there might be something going on between those two.

They're followed by the Russian General Count Libenskof, who is upset with Melibea, accusing her of infidelity. A duel between Libenskof and Alvaro is averted at the last minute by the arrival of Corinna, a poet from Rome. She accompanies herself with the harp as she sings of love and harmony. The guests are moved by her song, and join in a cheerful Sextet, ending with the words, "All will be happy."

PART TWO introduces some new characters. The Englishman Lord Sydney comes on the scene.  He's in love with Corinna, but he's too shy to declare himself. Instead, he secretly places flowers outside her room every day. Don Profondo is interested in English antiques, and asks Lord Sydney questions the Englishman can't answer.  Meanwhile, everyone is looking for horses for the journey to Reims.

Don Profondo runs into Corinna and her traveling companion, Delia. He and Delia go off to find out what's going on with the travel plans, leaving Corinna alone.

Onto the scene comes a Frenchman, the Chevalier Belfiore, who thinks women find him irresistible. (Once again, Rossini is having fun not only with names, but with various national stereotypes.)  Though Corinna doesn't like Belfiore and tries to get rid of him, the Chevalier is convinced that she's smitten.

Meanwhile, Baron Trombonok asks Don Profondo to draw up a list of the travelers' valuables; both men are eager to get on the road. The Countess of Folleville shows up, eagerly looking for Belfiore -- it seems she has a tryst in mind. Don Profondo, who saw the little scene between Belfiore and Corinna, tells the Countess all about it. She's furious.

Then Baron Trombonok announces the bad news: So many others are travelling to Reims that in the entire village, there are no horses to be found. The trip to Reims must be canceled.  But Madame Cortese saves the day. She's just received a letter from Paris. It seems that city is gearing up for celebration, too. So Countess Folleville invites the entire group to her Parisian manor, and they decide to leave the next day. Everyone is in good spirits, as they sing a grand ensemble for fourteen voices.

PART THREE opens while a spectacular banquet is being planned for the guests, before their planned departure the next day. The Marquise Melibea and her beau, Count Libenskof, have been arguing over the attentions paid to her by Don Alvaro. Baron Trombonok steps in to play peacemaker. The Count apologizes for his jealous behavior, and he and the Marquise kiss and make up.

The banquet begins with a performance by a band of traveling artists who were invited by Baron Trombonok. The Baron then asks that all the guests make toasts in the fashion of their native countries. The poet Corinna offers to improvise a special song for the occasion. The guests propose various themes, but finally settle on a song lauding the virtues of "Charles X, King of France!" After all, the opera was written for his real-life coronation.  When Corinna has finished her song, everyone joins in to sing the new King's praises, and the opera ends.