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Gioachino ROSSINI (1792-1868)
Le Comte Ory - opera in two acts (1825)
Count Ory, a young and licentious nobleman - Huw Rhys-Evans (tenor); Countess Adele - Linda Gerrard (soprano); Isolier, page to Count Ory and in love with the Countess Adele - Luisa Islam-Ali-Zade (mezzo); Raimbaud, friend to Count Ory - Luca Salsi (bass-baritone); Governor, tutor to Count Ory - Wojtek Gierlach (bass); Ragonde, companion to Countess Adele - Gloria Montanari (mezzo); Alice, a young peasant - Sofia Soloviy (soprano)
Czech Phiharmonic Choir; Czech Chamber Soloists/Brad Cohen
rec. live, 12, 16, 19 July 2002, Kursaal, Bad Wildbad, Germany, Rossini In Wildbad Festival
NAXOS OPERA CLASSICS 8.660207-08 [66.37 + 60.58]


After the premiere of Semiramide in Venice on 3 February 1823 Rossini and his wife travelled to London via Paris. They stayed in London for six months. There the composer presented eight of his operas at the King’s Theatre, Haymarket, and also met and sang duets with the King. The stay in London was reputed to have brought Rossini many tens of thousand of pounds. On his return to Paris, Rossini was offered the post of Musical Director of the Théâtre Italien. His contract provided an excellent income and a guaranteed pension. It also demanded new operas from him in French. Before embarking on any such opera he had the unavoidable duty of a work to celebrate the coronation of Charles X in Reims Cathedral in June 1825. Called Il viaggio a Reims (A Journey to Reims) it was composed to an Italian libretto and presented at the Théatre Italien on 19 June. It was hugely successful in three sold-out performances after which Rossini withdrew it considering it purely a pièce d’occasion.

Rossini’s first compositions to French texts for The Opéra were revisions of earlier works with new libretti, settings and additional music. The first, Le Siège de Corinth was premiered in October 1826 and was a resounding success. Moïse et Pharon, a revision of the Italian Mosè in Egitto followed in March 1827 to even greater acclaim. During the composition of Moïse et Pharon, Rossini agreed to write Guillaume Tell. Before doing so he wrote Le Comte Ory, making use of five of the nine numbers from Il viaggio a Reims. Le Comte Ory is not a comic opera in the Italian tradition, where secco recitative was to last another decade or so, but more in the French manner of opéra-comique. There are no buffoon characters and no buffa type patter arias. The work is one of charm and wit in the best Gallic tradition and a link towards Offenbach. The plot concerns the Countess Adele and her ladies who swear chastity and retreat into the countess’s castle when their men go off to the crusades. Comte Ory, a young licentious and libidinous aristocrat is determined to gain entrance to the castle in pursuit of carnal activity. He first does so as a travelling hermit seeking shelter and charity. When this fails he returns disguised as the Mother Superior of a group of nuns - really his own men in disguise - who also fancy their chances with the pent-up ladies. His young page Isolier, a trousers role, who is in love with the countess himself thwarts Ory’s plans. The timely return of the crusaders does likewise for the intentions of Ory’s fellow ‘nuns’. Love remains ever pure and chastity unsullied! 

The annual Bad Wildbad Festival, held in the small Black Forest spa where Rossini stopped over, has become known as the Pesaro of the North. It not only makes a speciality of Rossini’s works but also presents those often long forgotten Italian Operas by German composers of similar vintage. Naxos engineers have been present at the Festival for a number of years and the consequences have filled a number of important gaps Rossini catalogue. From the 2001 Festival comes a world premiere recording of L'equivoco stravagante and also La pietra del paragone. The year 2002 juxtaposed Rossini’s Maometto II, in the 1820 Naples edition, alongside Peter Von Winter’s Maometo, which had lain unperformed for 150 years. The two works are derived from totally different literary sources and the plot and characters are in no way related. This was issued on the Marco Polo label. From 2003 came a recording of Torvaldo e Dorliska that filled an important gap in the catalogue but was quickly usurped by a Dynamic release with a superior cast from Pesaro itself. In 2004 Bad Wildbad presented Rossini’s rare Ciro in Babilonia, his Lenten offering of 1811 for Ferrara. Among this formidable list of recordings, I had missed the fact that Naxos had not until now issued a recording of Le Comte Ory from the 2002 Festival. Maybe with a strong rival in the form of John Eliot Gardiner’s recording in the Philips Classic Opera series it was not considered as urgent in the schedule.

Whatever the background, the arrival of this recording of Rossini’s French comedy is welcome. Brad Cohen whose conducting I admired in the Maometto keeps the music moving and full of verve. Of the singers Linda Gerard as the countess particularly impressed me. She had been off my radar since leaving Manchester’s Royal Northern College in the early 1990s since when she has built a career in Europe including this performance at Bad Wildbad. She has a warm centre to her voice allied to a flexible and secure coloratura technique (CD 1 tr. 19 and CD 2 trs. 3-5) to give a very appealing and satisfying characterisation. Her fellow coloratura, Luisa Islam-Ali-Zade who has appeared in several Bad Wildbad productions is equally impressive as Isolier although I would have liked a little more distinction in timbre between her and Linda Gerrard (CD 2 tr. 11). At the other end of the mezzo extreme Gloria Montanari’s Ragonde is a little thick-toned. As the libidinous Count, Huw Rhys-Evans sometimes strives a little too hard with a coarsening of his tone. He is good in this repertoire, but lacks the mellifluous head voice necessary to make him outstanding. Nonetheless his singing is never less then well phrased and characterised 9CD 1 tr. 3 and CD 2 trs. 3 and 11). As Raimbad, the count’s partner in would be seduction, Luca Salsi sings strongly and evenly whilst Wojtek Gierlach as his tutor is steady and sonorous in the air Veiller sans cesse (CD 1 tr. 5).

The recording is well balanced and there are no obtrusive stage noises. The audience show their warm appreciation after some ensembles and individual arias, but they do so judiciously and without disturbing Brad Cohen’s fluid interpretation. The leaflet has a full track-listing with roles and timings indicated, an informative introductory essay, artist profiles and a track-related synopsis, all in English. There is an alternative essay in German as well as a translation of the track-related synopsis in that language.

Robert J Farr






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