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Gioachino ROSSINI (1792-1868)
Le Comte Ory - an opera in two acts (1828)
Libretto by Eugene Scribe and Charles Gaspard Delestre-Poirson.
First performed at the Théatre de líAcadémie Royale de Musique, (The Opéra), Paris, 20 August 1828
Count Ory, a young and licentious nobleman - John Aler (ten); Countess Adele - Sumi Jo (sop); Isolier, page to Count Ory and in love with the Countess Adele - Diana Montague (mezzo); Raimbaud, friend to Count Ory - Gino Quilico (bar); Governor, tutor to Count Ory - Gilles Cachemaille (bar); Ragonde, companion to Countess Adele - Raquel Pierotti (mezzo); Young Noblemen, friends of Ory - Francis Dudziak (ten) and Nicolas Rivenq (bar); Alice, a young peasant - Maryse Castets (sop)
Orchestra and chorus of the Opéra de Lyon/John Eliot Gardiner
rec. Bourse du Travail, Lyon, France, February and March 1988
PHILIPS CLASSIC OPERA 475 7014 PM2 [66.17 + 65.35]
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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. Rossini presented eight of his operas at the Kingís Theatre, Haymarket, and also met and sang duets with the King. The stay in London was reputed to have brought Rossini many tens of thousands of pounds. On his return to Paris, Rossini was offered the post of Musical Director of the Théâtre Italien. In that position the composer was able to stage his own opera seria as well as his buffa works and the compositions of others. Rossiniís contract provided an excellent income and a guaranteed pension. It also demanded a new opera from him in French, a command of which linguistic prosody he needed to learn. He also needed to amend his compositional style to re-align his Italian tradition and move it towards the French. Before any opera in French however, was 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 Italianís 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 díoccasion.

Rossiniís 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, premiered on 9 October 1826, was a revision of Maometto II with the addition of an overture and other pieces. It was a resounding success. Moïse et Pharon, a revision of the Italian Mosè in Egitto, premiered in Rome in 1817, followed on 26 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 countessís 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 and 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 Oryís plans. The timely return of the crusaders does likewise for the intentions of Oryís fellow Ďnunsí. Love remains ever pure and chastity unsullied!

Photographs of conductor John Eliot Gardiner tend to indicate a rather cerebral aesthete, a view perhaps reinforced by his work in Bach, Monteverdi and the baroque operas of Gluck. How would he cope with conveying the final trio of Comte Ory, when in a variation of the three-in-a-bed situation Ory, deceived by the Countessís voice, makes advances to his page Isolier? This scene is delectably conveyed in the DVD of the Glyndebourne production (review). The answer is that Gardiner conveys the humour of that scene (CD 2 trs 10-11) and the rest of this music quite delightfully. He is matched in his skill by the singers. Sumi Jo as Countess Adele sings with light tone, has no difficulty with the tessitura and is quick in her vocal interplay with the other characters (CD 1 trs 2-3 and 15-18). This capacity to sing of a colleague is so essential in a work such as Ory where ensembles are more central to the plot than arias. One role that does get a substantial aria is Oryís tutor The Governor (CD 1 trs 7-10) sung by Francophone Gilles Cachemaille with strong fulsome tone and good diction. The lighter baritone of Gino Quilico sings Oryís partner in seduction, Raimbaud. He does so with a fine sense of style and without recourse to too much characterisation. He has the aria Dans ce lieu solitaire (CD 2 tr. 7) where having gained entrance to the castle and discovered the wine cellar, he with his co conspirators all disguised as nuns, have a boisterous time (CD 2 trs. 8-9). Raimbaudís aria is the nearest the work comes to the Italian buffo patter tradition in one of the pieces lifted from Il viaggio a Reims. Periodically Countess Adele and Isolier disturb the drinking enquiring after the Ďnunsíí well being. The timing in Elle revient ... silence (CD 2 tr. 9) has to be spot-on. It is a further credit to Gardinerís feel for Rossiniís creation that this scene is so well realised. The role of Ory himself has many varied histrionic and vocal demands. His opening cavatina Que les destines prospères (CD 1 tr. 3) when Ory tries to gain access to the castle disguised as a hermit, shows Jon Alerís light heady tenor and expressive singing to perfection. His interpretation grows as the plot thickens. His duet with his page, and nemesis, Isolier, Une dame de haut parage (CD 1 tr. 11) is a particular vocal highlight. It is only surpassed by the duet with Countess Adele when, in disguise as a woman on a pilgrimage, Ory discusses womanly virtue whilst in asides making his libidinous intentions clear (CD 2 trs. 2-4). As on the Glyndebourne DVD, Diana Montague sings the role of Isolier. Her expression and legato are exemplary in a consummate portrayal with many vocal inflections and nuances that enable the humour of the opera to express itself in the way intended.

The sound has warmth and clarity with an excellent balance between orchestra, soloists and chorus. The booklet has a full libretto with translation in English. The illuminating essay by Philip Gossett and the synopsis present in the original issue are now missing. A good track-related synopsis would have been particularly valuable in a work of some textual complexity for newcomers. It would not have taken much space or effort to provide one. Its omission is the only reservation I have about this very welcome re-issue whose performance I cannot praise highly enough.

For those who know Rossiniís comic works Il Barbiere di Siviglia and La Cenerentola, Le comte Ory is an ideal introduction to his later musical style. Whilst it may not surpass those earlier operas, it is one of his finest creations. Rossini sold the score of the work for the then unprecedented sum of sixteen thousand francs. This very welcome re-issue of the 1988 recording will cost a micro-fraction of that. It should be part of any collection of the composerís works.

Robert J Farr



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