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
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 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
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