Rossini’s penultimate opera, Le Comte Ory, received its first staging at the Metropolitan Opera this season. This is a charming work that is Rossini just below his best – which means that it’s very good, indeed. The opera needs three virtuoso singers well versed in the bel canto style. In Juan Diego Flórez, Joyce DiDonato, and Diana Damrau the Met had the best that the world has to offer.
The libretto of Le Comte Ory is such a mish mash of the original show on which it’s based that the librettists declined to have their names on the printed libretto. The title role is another example of opera’s unsuccessful seducers – think Don Giovanni whose successes are all in the past. He gets nowhere during the stage action of Mozart’s masterpiece.
There’s no point in describing the silly goings on other than they give Rossini a loom on which to weave a series of very attractive pieces that show of the talents of gifted singers. The only really sublime writing in the opera is the slow opening section of the trio that comes at the end of the opera. The accompanying stage action involves three in a bed and a lot of gender confusion. This results in a lot of laughter which though intended and unavoidable obscures the beautiful music that Rossini wrote for the madcap scene. This was the trio that Berlioz so much admired.
Le Comte Ory started out as a French vaudeville in 1816. It was never meant to be taken seriously. Rossini didn’t and neither does the current production. This works just fine unlike Mary Zimmerman’s recent mounting of Bellini’s La Sonnambula at the Met. In that opera we have a silly story that must be taken seriously for it to work. Zimmerman’s failure was the result of her condescension to the story.
Always ready to recycle, Rossini was opera’s greenest composer, he constructed almost all of Ory’s first act out of music he had used in Il Viagggio a Reims in 1825. The only new number in this act is the duet for Ory and Isolier. Almost all of the second act is new.
In the title role Flórez displayed his extraordinary ability to navigate Rossini’s florid line and to produce a long succession of high notes without strain. The only quality he lacks is a lush sound. The telecast audience was told that he had been up all night awaiting the birth of his first child and that he had only left for the opera house 35 minutes before show time. He showed no sign of fatigue. In this type of role he has no peer.
German soprano Diana Damrau appeared as Countess Adèle who is the target of Ory’s lechery. She, on the other hand, is attracted to Ory’s page Isolier a trouser role sung by Joyce DiDonato. Damrau has a beautiful high soprano that handles high notes and runs with easy facility. DiDonato is another accomplished Rossinian. She has lyric mezzo that is perfectly suited to this type of music. Her coloratura and high notes were both accurate and sensuous.
All three principals are convincing comedians. Flórez gets to dress up as a bearded hermit in act 1 and as a nun in the second act. He seemed to be having a great time acting out all the story’s foolishness. Damrau played her part as if she saw through all the posturing and disguises almost from the start. In the second act there were 25 men dressed a nuns – some with beards. DiDonato was a believable young man.
The supporting roles were also very well sung. Mezzo-soprano Susanne Resmark, as Ragonde wore an outfit with so much décolletage that a wardrobe malfunction seemed inevitable, but fortunately (I suppose) everything stayed in place. Stéphane Degout was Raimbaud, Ory’s friend. He sings a Gallic patter song that doesn’t quite reach the level of the composer’s Italian counterparts. Michele Pertusi was effective as Ory’s tutor who gives away his student’s disguise in the first act. Maurizio Benini has conducted a lot of Rossini at the Met. He kept everything moving at a brisk pace. The bubbly first act finale was effervescent.
Bart Sher set the action on a raised platform that represented a stage. He inserted a mute prompter who made sound effects and cranked things up. Most of this conceit was lost of the broadcast audience because the camera’s point of view obscured most what he was doing and was inside the platform’s space. How well the production worked in the house is impossible for me to say.
In summary three great performances by the leads. Definitely worth a trip to the repeat broadcast on April 27. The opera deserves more than one staging every two centuries. Rossini is one of life’s greatest reasons for being.
LE COMTE ORY
Gioacchino Rossini–Eugene Scribe/Charles Gaspard Delestre Poirson
Count Ory……………Juan Diego Flórez
Countess Adèle……….Diana Damrau
Set Designer…………Michael Yeargan
Costume Designer……..Catherine Zuber
Lighting designer…….Brian MacDevit
TV Director………….Gary Halvorson