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Seen and Heard Opera Review

Rossini, Le Comte Ory
: Garsington Opera, 25 June 2005 (H-T W)


On my journey from London to Garsington, I asked myself why Garsington Opera came up with “Le Comte Ory” instead of one of the endless, lesser-known operas by Rossini. After all, it is not that long ago that Glyndebourne surprised us with quite an exciting production, which had been revised in a later season. But, suddenly I remembered an unforgettable “Cosi fan tutte” directed by Peter Knapp at London’s Riverside Studio some 25 years ago, which still outshines most productions I have seen before or since. Furthermore, I remembered the well known German proverb ‘Thinking one should leave to horses, because they have bigger heads´, which finally put me in the mood to look forward to the opera in Garsington, without any prejudice, and knowing that at least David Parry, certainly the most inspired Rossini conductor in this country, would bring this silly story to life.



In the first few bars of the overture the strings seemed a bit uneven, but as soon as the opera took off it produced the most imaginative entertainment, at the highest possible musical standards. Director Robert Goold had the brilliant idea of mounting the action in the garden of a contemporary rural French brasserie, which to the left bordered on to the Chateau of the Countess Adèle (Juanita Lascarro) and to the right on to the beautiful flower garden, from where people entered the stage, thereby making the most idyllic use of the back wall of the existing terrace and of the Manor House. All the men in this community had disappeared to fight a holy war – or may be, they were all shareholders in any questionable British company. The women were left on their own, longing for some kind of sexual entertainment, including the Countess Adéle, her companion Ragonde (Anne-Marie Owens) and her ladies-in-waiting. Rumour spread that a hermit had arrived, who could solve all sorts of problems, and everybody was desperately awaiting his arrival. Finally, on top of a high staircase in the back the hermit (Colin Lee), the young disguised womaniser Graf Ory, entered dressed as a Moonie priest covered in flowers with a big hat, heavy dark sunglasses and a white stick miming blindness.



He offers his help and takes all the village girls with him. Meanwhile, Le Gouverneur (Dean Robinson), Ory’s private tutor, and Isolier (Victoria Simmonds), Ory’s page, are desperately trying to find Count Ory, who has gone astray. Hearing of the Moonie priest and his appetite for women, they know where to find Ory and go off to look for reinforcement to catch him. The Moonie seems to have done the job. All the girls come back happy, some even still half dressed. He now helps the Countess by prescribing her a love affair hoping he can fulfil his final goal. She accepts his advice, but contrary to his desire admits her fondness for Isolier. But when the tutor arrives, Ory’s cover is blown. Knowing that the next day all the men will be back, he plans to stage a fresh assault for the night.



The second act takes place in the dormitory of Adéle’s ladies-in-waiting. Nine beds, in constantly different positions, are the centre-piece. The ladies, frightened by an enormous thunderstorm (one of Rossini’s signature tunes), become hysterical when somebody knocks on the door. Outside are `nuns´ fleeing the pursuit by Ory and asking for shelter. They are welcome and soon the devil breaks loose. Everybody seems to have found somebody to have fun with; only Ory wanders through the dark dormitory in desperation for Adéle, who protected by Isolier, manages to avoid him.


This terzetto, one of the most delicate pieces of music Rossini ever wrote, was the highlight of the entire performance. Rarely will you find such beautifully light voices, with the singers’ Rossini timbre matching each other in a way I have not experienced for a long time. The Columbian soprano Juanita Lascarro, who ten years ago made her British debut in the title role in Garsington’s “Daphne”, the delicate mezzo Victoria Simmonds, who can easily be taken for a boy and may soon be a great Octavian, and the young South African tenor Colin Lee, harmonised with a perfection and delicacy second to none – and not only as singers, but also as fine and totally credible actors. Those three rare artists, the unbelievable musical homogeneity of the chorus, even in the most turbulent scenes, the simplicity of the design (Laura Hopkins), the thoroughly and brilliant developed silliness of this altogether silly story by Rupert Gould, the satirical movement by Aletta Collins and last, but not least, David Parry as the animated spiritus rector and convincing interpreter of Rossini’s spirit – they all made for an unforgettable evening of full-blooded and artistically superb music-theatre. I came to the conclusion that, in this case, Glyndebourne could only be awarded silver, while gold belonged to Garsington.



Hans-Theodor Wohlfahrt         

Pictures © Johan Persson



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