It was a delectable comedy – full of slapstick but excellent acting, virtuoso singing from the leads, and colorful, fantastical costumes and stage settings. I’d been looking forward to Rossini’s last comic opera, Le Comte Ory, since the start of the season, excited as I was to see three of my admired singers together on stage: Juan Diego Florez, Diana Damrau, and Joyce Didonato.
We weren’t disappointed. The silly plot drew lots of laughs, even the ménage a trois bed scene at the end which didn’t make any sense plot-wise. Florez and Damrau were spectacular in the way they casually tossed off their super high notes while still managing to stay in role. And Didonato was brilliant in her depiction of a young page boy, right down to her hand gestures and gait.
And the bonus for the evening? The company streaming the taped HD video of the opera from the Met put in a bad tape that stopped working right at intermission, causing us a 15 minute delay while the folks at AMC hurried to straighten out the issue. Eventually, they loaded the good tape and we were back on track. To apologize for the problems, AMC gave us free passes to another Live in HD series. 😀 Hehe, this is the second time this season we’ve had free passes issued. The last was during the streaming of Don Pasquale, which kept on getting interrupted because of thunderstorms in New York. I’ll gladly put up with 15 minute delays for free passes anytime!
A Naughty Romp From Rossini
By HEIDI WALESON
MARCH 30, 2011
‘Le Comte Ory” (1828), Rossini’s last comic opera and the only one he wrote in French, has a naughty Gallic spirit and a buoyant, witty score. The title character is a notorious seducer; his prey, Countess Adèle, can barely conceal her own lust for his page, Isolier. The second act involves the count and his followers penetrating the countess’s no-men-allowed castle disguised as nuns. And the count gets tricked into making love to Isolier, who he thinks is the countess. Bartlett Sher’s new production, the Metropolitan Opera’s first of the work, opened last Wednesday with three top Rossini singers—Juan Diego Flórez, Diana Damrau and Joyce DiDonato—in the principal roles. Yet the madcap, champagne fizz of the piece didn’t quite come across.
The main culprit was Maurizio Benini’s deliberate conducting, which flattened the effervescence of the solo singers, kept the ensembles from taking off, and set the pacing as measured, even plodding, rather than accelerated. A light touch makes this kind of piece, and Mr. Benini was just too careful.
Certainly there was fun happening on stage. The story’s conceit is that all the men have gone off to the Crusades, leaving the field free for the marauding count and his followers. As Ory, Mr. Flórez, brilliantly channeling his inner satyr, spent most of the first act disguised as a venerable hermit offering intercession for lovelorn village women in return for lavish gifts, and the second act disguised as the excessively affectionate “Sister Colette,” perplexing Adèle with his wandering hands. Unforced Rossini tenors are a rare breed, and it was a treat to hear Mr. Flórez navigate the vocal extremes of the role, popping out high C’s while adopting a rascally but winning demeanor.
Ms. Damrau was equally funny, using her lustrous soprano and command of sinuous bel canto line and coloratura precision to communicate Adèle’s histrionic personality. Her entrance aria, an over-the-top proclamation of lust and despair, was especially glorious. Ms. DiDonato was a winning and collegial Isolier, keeping the comic tension high in her numerous duets—usually at cross purposes—with the other principals. Stéphane Degout brought great patter skills and French diction to the role of Ory’s dissolute henchman Raimbaud, and Susanne Resmark was imposing as Adèle’s confidante Ragonde. Only bass Michele Pertusi seemed oddly bland as Ory’s long-suffering tutor.
Another high point was Catherine Zuber’s costumes, a dizzying farrago of color and shape—especially the witty headgear, which included stovepipe hats and turbans on the village women, raspberry-hued wigs on some of the castle ladies, and the wings, veils and ruffled wimples (sometimes framing beards) of the counterfeit nuns. And Mr. Sher pulled out all the stops for a hilarious scene in which Raimbaud unearthed some cases of wine in the castle and led the “nuns” in a jolly drinking number, interrupted with effusive prayers designed to fool the suspicious Ragonde.
There was medieval armor for the departing Crusaders; otherwise, we were in fairy-tale land, especially given Ms. Damrau’s oversize violet and fuschia costumes. Michael Yeargen’s set—inspired by pictures of a 17th-century Italian theater and commedia dell’arte—featured a raised wooden platform, candles for stage lighting, visible weights and pulleys for scenery changes, onstage devices for generating thunder and lightning, and an ancient, doddering stage manager who cued assistants and cranked levers. This opera-within-an-opera concept was amusing, and gave the Met’s large stage a more intimate, handmade quality. Brian MacDevitt’s lighting nicely suggested candlelight, daylight, and the Act II storm.
For the most part, Mr. Sher’s directing capably balanced lust and playfulness. But in the big payoff number, when Ory, still pretending to be Sister Colette, arrives in the darkened bedroom in pursuit of Adèle, he is supposed to fondle Isolier by mistake. The music is a wonderful, sensual trio, and Mr. Sher staged it on a tipped-up bed as an actual threesome, with Ory in his male clothes and all participants seemingly having a lovely time. This choice, like the conducting, missed the point of the joke.