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Gioachino ROSSINI (1792-1868)
Le Comte Ory, opera in two acts (1828)
Count Ory, a young and licentious nobleman - Philippe Talbot  (tenor)
Countess Adèle, Julie Fuchs (soprano)
Isolier, page to Count Ory and infatuated with the Countess Adèle - Gaëlle Arquez  (mezzo)
Raimbaud, friend to Count Ory - Jean-Sébastien Bou  (baritone)
Governor, tutor to Count Ory - Patrick Bolleire  (bass); Ragonde, companion to Countess Adèle - Ève-Maud Hubeaux  (contralto)
Orchestre des Champs-Elysées, Les Éléments/Louis Langrée
New production by the Opéra Comique in a co-production with the Opéra Royal de Wallonie and the Opéra Royal - Château de Versailles Spectacles
Stage Director, Denis Podalydès. Set Designer, Eric Ruf. Costume Designer, Christian Lacroix. Lighting, Stéphanie Daniel
rec. 27 and 29 December 2017, Opéra Comique, Paris
Video Director, Vincent Massip
Picture format NTSC 16.9. Colour HD. Sound. PCM stereo, DTS 5.1
Subtitles in, French (original language), English, German, Spanish, Italian, Japanese and Korean
C MAJOR DVD 747408 [2 discs: 150 mins]

After the premiere of Semiramide in Venice on February 3rd 1823, Rossini and his wife travelled to London via Paris. In London, the composer presented eight of his operas at the King’s Theatre, Haymarket, and also met and sang duets with the King. The stay was reputed to have earned 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, 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 (The Journey to Reims), it was composed to an Italian libretto and presented at the Théâtre Italien on 19th 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; 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 to a wholly new French libretto and in doing, made use of no fewer than five of the nine numbers from Il viaggio a Reims.

The use of those five numbers mainly the First Act of Le Comte Ory gives its music a distinctly different tinta from that of the Second Act. It 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 as would be found in an Italian work of the genre. The work is one of charm and wit in the best Gallic tradition. The plot concerns the Countess Adèle and her ladies, who swear chastity and retreat into the countess’ 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 does so first 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, 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!

In giving judgement on this production, one big plus must be set against a big minus. The plus is that the singers are francophone, and consequently consummate in the inflection and meaning of words and accent. The bad news, not unusually in modern productions, whether in Europe or elsewhere, where directors and designers like to throw illogical spanners into well-running wheels, is that the setting and costumes are of the time of the composition, several centuries later than that specified in the libretto. On many occasions, as here, it seems that the objective is merely to be different, even perverse. Why ever would one wish to take a plot that is specific to an historical period and general milieu, and transpose it forward when the text, as well as the costumes, are significantly at odds with what is happening on stage and cannot be part of the story which is set in the time of the crusades? The costumes here are of the time of Rossini’s composition of the work and often bear no relationship with the sung text and action. The best news is that for most of Act Two, set in, on and around Countess Adèle’s bed, costume matters little, as the three cavort, hide and behave in a libidinous manner with ex-soldiers dressed as nuns, albeit some complete with beards, who look on and sing drinking songs. Act One is set in a church, which, like the costumes, with Ory dressed as a priest, rather than a hermit, do not relate at all to the libretto’s period or story.

My frustration in respect of costumes is compounded by the positives being of such a high order, both in respect of the singing and, more important still, of the orchestral contribution under Louis Langrée who makes Rossini’s music sparkle as I have too rarely heard it. All of the singers act their roles well and the excellence of their singing often matches the quality of their acting. Louis Langrée’s pacing of the work and support of his soloists are of the highest order. Of the soloists, Julie Fuchs as the Comtesse sings with beauty of phrasing and tone, even when frolicking about the bed in Act Two and seemingly in some danger of losing her modesty as she bounces about on and around the bed in a singularly low-cut nightie. She is well contrasted vocally with the Isolier of Gaëlle Arquez, whose varied tone and acting are of the highest order. It is also a delight to hear the rich tones of contralto Ève-Maud Hubeaux as Ragonde, companion to Countess Adèle, who gains in character by refraining from vocal and acted excess. Of the men, Patrick Bolleire is suitably sonorous and acts his small role well. However, the central male part is the title role; I am so used to Latin or South American singers in these coloratura tenor parts that Rossini wrote, that I was taken aback by Philippe Talbot as Ory. A Frenchman singing coloratura tenor role in French? I cannot readily draw names from my memory bank which, with due modesty, goes back sixty years and includes Belgian francophone Mark Laho at Glyndebourne in 1997, a mere twenty years ago, but even by then a veritable rarity in the repertoire in the U.K. There is a distinct difference in this Frenchman’s vocal timbre from the current and more usual South American high tenor in this repertoire, whilst at the same time it is accommodating to the coloratura demands of the role that many know from the likes of Flórez and, more recently Javier Camareno, who pinged out a reprise of the nine high Cs in the Act One aria in Donizetti’s La Fille Du Regiment at The Met recently, seen all over the world via the cinema transmission. Talbot’s tone adds masculinity to the role and that is a considerable gain. I suggest.

Robert J Farr

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