Le Comte Ory, Metropolitan Opera, live cinema relay, April 2011Posted on 10 April 2011
This uniquely Rossinian opera — his penultimate — is wonderful fun, and I’m delighted the Met has put it on, and done so in a cinema screening for the whole world to share. It’s not often performed because it needs three superb singers — in the roles of Count Ory, his page Isolier, and the Countess Adele — and the Met did us proud by having Juan Diego Flórez, Joyce DiDonato, and Diana Damrau in these roles. The superb singing and acting from all three was a treat.
In its original form this was a one-act vaudeville production by Scribe and Delestre-Poirson, produced eight years previously, and they turned it into an opera for Rossini in 1828. The story is based on the exploits of the libidinous Count Ory, a medieval Don Juan who featured in a well-known Picardy legend. Ory and his page are both enamoured of the Countess Adèle whose husband has departed on one of the Crusades. In Act I, Ory disguises himself as a hermit whose religious virtue and ascetic background can help sad people, such as the lonely Countess, to regain their composure. He does this by telling her she needs a lover to give her a zest for life, and the page Isolier sees his chance. Ory soon dissuades the Countess from such a liaison by telling her the young man is page to the terrible Ory, but then he himself is unmasked by his tutor, who’s been searching for him, and the plan fails. But Ory is a man of ingenuity and in the second act he and his companions dress as nuns and gain entrance to the Countess’s home in the midst of a storm. Lots of fun, particularly in a bedroom scene with Ory, Isolier and the Countess all together in a bed. When the Crusaders return it’s all over.
Rossini’s music is partly adapted from his wonderful earlier creation Il Viaggio a Reims, a sort of cantata-opera written for the coronation of Charles X. It may lack the vitality and flow of L’Italiana or Il Barbieri, but as that great Rossini expert Francis Toye writes, “No score of his shows such elegance, such piquancy, such grace”.
The production by Bartlett Sher was set in the eighteenth century, with suitable stage props operated from the side by a master of ceremonies who tapped his stick to tell the orchestra when to start. His comings and goings started before the overture as he walked over the stage within the stage. The glorious costumes by Catherine Zuber came from several time periods, and those for the Countess were magnificent, well matched by Diana Damrau’s brilliantly assured singing of the role, particularly in the top range. As her amorously insistent lover, Juan Diego Flórez made a superb entrance as Ory, disguised as a hermit with an obviously fake beard. His presence was riveting, and in the interval conversation with Renee Fleming we learned that he’d been in attendance at home as his wife gave birth a mere half hour before the performance. Congratulations to the Met for magically transporting him, and presumably his dresser, to the theatre on time!
The page is a trouser role, and though it’s not easy for a woman to appear as a young man, Joyce DiDonato’s performance was as good as it gets. She was utterly convincing, and this is a woman I’ve seen as Rosina in Il Barbieri looking the prettiest thing you’ve ever seen — even in a wheelchair, which she used at Covent Garden in July 2009 after a stage accident. Superlatives fail me.
These three principals were well aided by Stéphane Degout as Ory’s friend Raimbaud, Susanne Resmark as the Countess’s companion Ragonde, and Michele Pertusi as the tutor. Fine conducting by Maurizio Benini kept the singers together beautifully and the ensemble at the end of Act I was simply terrific. A better performance of Le Comte Ory is difficult to imagine, and I would love to see the Met do more Rossini in live screenings.