Gioachino ROSSINI (1792-1868)
Le Comte Ory - an opera in two acts (1828)
Count Ory, a young and licentious nobleman - Juan Diego Florez (tenor); Countess
Adele - Diana Damrau (soprano); Isolier, page to Count Ory and in love with
the Countess Adele - Joyce DiDonato (mezzo); Raimbaud, friend to Count Ory -
Stéphane Degout (baritone); Governor, tutor to Count Ory - Michele Pertussi
(bass); Ragonde, companion to Countess Adele - Susanne Resmark (alto)
Chorus and Orchestra of the Metropolitan Opera, New York/Maurizio Benini
Producer: Bartlet Sheer
Set Designer: Michael Yeargen Costume Designer: Catherine Zuber
rec. 9 April 2011
Picture format: NTSC 16.9; Region free. Colour HD. Sound: LPCM stereo.
Subtitles: English, French, German, Spanish, Italian
VIRGIN CLASSICS DVD VIDEO 0709599 [2 DVDs: 153:00 plus bonus]
Afterthe premiere of Semiramide in Venice on 3 February 1823 Rossini
and his wife travelled to London via Paris. There the composer presented eight
of his operas at the King’s Theatre, Haymarket, and also met and sang
duets with the then King. The stay was reputed to have brought Rossini many
tens of thousand 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, a command of which linguistic prosody he needed to learn. Before
any such tasks however, came 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 Théâtre Italien on 19 June. It was hugely successful
in a handful of 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.
Le Siège de Corinthe, the first, was premiered in October 1826
and was a resounding success with Moïse et Pharon, a revision of
the Italian Mosè in Egitto, following 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,
to a wholly new French libretto. In doing so he made use of no fewer than five
of the nine numbers from Il viaggio a Reims.
The use of the five numbers from Il viaggio, mainly in the first act,
gives a distinctly different tinta to the music between the two acts
of Le Comte Ory. Itis 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 with, perhaps, a look towards Offenbach. The plot concerns the
Countess Adele and her ladies who swear chastity and retreat to 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 and who also fancy their chances
with the pent up ladies. His young page, Isolier, a trousers role, himself in
love with the countess 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!
This recorded performance is the same as was transmitted to cinemas worldwide
on the Saturday evening shown. At a cinema, I waited with worried anticipation
for a front of stage announcement, as the performance was a little later than
usual in starting. None was forthcoming, but in the interval talk, repeated
here as part of the bonus of interviews conducted by soprano diva Renée
Fleming, it emerged that tenor Juan Diego Florez had been in the birthing pool
with his wife shortly before hurrying to the theatre for the performance after
the arrival of a son! He was on a high and by the end of the performance so
were we, at least in respect of the singing.
Bel canto and the Metropolitan Opera have not always been easy bedfellows.
In the 1950s general manager Bing fell out with Maria Callas, reigning queen
of the genre. With that separation the house ceded the genre to Allen Sven Oxenberg’s
American Opera Society. Oxenberg presented Callas as Imogene in Bellini’s
Il Pirata for its American debut. Overnight the AOS became New York’s
principal purveyor of star operatic attractions. In February 1962 it even upstaged
the Met with Sutherland’s debut in the city singing the eponymous role
in Bellini’s long forgotten Beatrice di Tenda. The arrival of Joan
Sutherland on the scene changed the Met’s attitude to the bel canto
repertoire. It is perhaps significant that shortly after Peter Gelb took over
as General Manager in 2006, and set about revitalising productions, one of the
earliest productions of his first season was a revival of Bellini’s I
Puritani, originally mounted in 1976 for the great Australian diva. The
revival featured Anna Netrebko as Elvira giving a sensational rendering of the
act two mad scene (see review).
In retrospect this seemed to kick-start a significant return to the bel canto
under Gelb with a series of new productions that were also premieres at the
theatre, and even in America, of neglected operas of that period. The sequence
has included Rossini’s Armida in 2010, this performance of Le
Comte Ory in the spring of 2011 and Donizetti’s Anna Bolena
later the same year. The composer’s Maria Stuarda is scheduled
for the 2012-2013 season. All these productions are included in the Met’s
programme of transmissions to cinema’s worldwide. My reviews of the first
and third of those operas will appear shortly on this site.
The only downside of Peter Gelb’s policy has been in his choice of directors
and set designers. The choice often falls to those with rather off-beat ideas
and little experience of opera. In the case of this Le Comte Ory, director
Bartlet Sheer and set designer Michael Yeargen choose the “theatre within
a theatre” concept of a presentation in the late eighteenth century. Not
a failing in itself, but do the audience really want to see the wind-machine
and thunder-sheet, let alone the constant fussing of a period costumed and seemingly
senile stage manager roaming the set? I doubt it, and it does distract from
an excellent cast of principals and the superb and opulent gowns for the ladies
of the castle. Add a lack of cohesion, even unintended confusion, in the three-in-a-bed
pranks of the last scene, much better handled in the 1997 Glyndebourne production
and I dearly wished that Gelb had appointed a team with more experience of opera
and this genre in particular.
The three principal singers, Juan Diego Florez as Ory, Diana Damrau as the Countess
pursued by him and Joyce DiDonato as Isolier, his page and rival for the countess’s
affections, could hardly be bettered. Their singing is outstanding in all respects,
all of them making the best they can of the producer’s clichés.
All three are consummate actors able to create a character as well as being
coloratura specialists. Despite the many vocal challenges thrown at them by
Rossini I hardly heard a fluffed line or smudged or aspirated vocal division.
Spectacular high notes are hit with a purity and élan that takes the
breath away. The supporting cast includes a very good Raimbaud, Ory’s
friend in the seduction plans, in the person and firm tones of the baritone
Stéphane Degout. There’s also a sometimes dry-toned Michele Pertussi
as Ory’s tutor. Susanne Resmark is a well-acted Ragonde with many facial
expressions that partially distract from her capacious bosoms that look as if
they are going to wobble out of her bustier any minute. Maurizio Benini conducts
with a pleasing combination of wit and élan that allows Rossini’s
creation to sparkle.
The Virgin Classics booklet gives no chapter listings, contents or timings.
The essay explaining Bartlet Sheer’s ideas, in English and French is no
compensation for this omission.
Robert J Farr
Outstanding singing from the three principals. Quirks of production spoil what
should have been an issue deserving the highest accolade.