We are here to encourage the development of gifted young singers and to stimulate the growth of New York City's invaluable chamber opera companies. But we will not neglect the Metropolitan Opera either. Get ready for bouquets and brickbats.

Sunday, September 2, 2012


Le Comte Ory
What seemed like tedious fluff in April 2011 on the stage of The Metropolitan Opera (see review below) seemed just about right for a warm summer evening outdoors on the Lincoln Center Plaza.  Gary Halvorson's direction of the HD could not make a silk purse out of this sow's ear but it did highlight the anachronistic candy colored costumes of Catherine Zuber, the clumsiness of the scene with Countess Adele in bed with Count Ory and Isolier and the distancing strategy of the Bartlett Sher production.  Not trusting the material on its own terms we found the "opera within an opera" concept rather tiresome and the distraction of the stage manager wandering about with his thunder and lightning machines quite annoying.  That being said, we thrilled to the voices, especially the final scene with the aforementioned trio.  We have no complaints about the presence of two Rossini operas within three days!

The exuberant costumes by Catherine Zuber engaged my eye and my ear was charmed by the vocally perfect performances of the charming soprano Diana Damrau, the equally charming tenor Juan Diego Florez and the delightful  mezzo Joyce DiDonato.  So why the tedium?  Was it the lackluster conducting of Maestro Maurizio Benini or, dare I say this, could it be that this is not Rossini at his best?  Quite a bit of the music was recycled from his piece d’occasion “Il Viaggio a Reims”.  It was said in the program notes that the French language does not lend itself to the florid vocal ornamentation as does Italian.  This is simple to understand, but to this pair of ears, there was ornamentation aplenty.

Perhaps it is simply the case of an uninspiring libretto by Eugene Scribe et al.  Not much happens here.  The licentious Comte Ory is bent on seducing women, but particularly the desirable Countess Adele who is cloistered in her castle while her brother is off in the Holy Land to fight in the Crusades.  In Act I he disguises himself as an hermit in a ridiculous beard; in Act II he disguises himself as a nun, along with a troop of knights in similar garb.  Disguises are usually fun.  One thinks of the Count in Il Barbiere di Siviglia disguising himself as a drunken soldier and as a music teacher.  Somehow in that opera there is a lot going on.  There are lots of funny characters doing outrageous things and getting into much mischief.  But in “Le Comte Ory”  it just didn’t tickle my funny bone.

In the penultimate scene the Count winds up in the Countess Adele’s bed along with his rival, his page Isolier, sung ardently by Joyce DiDonato, quite convincing in a pants role.  This reads pretty funny but the scene was clumsily handled, even for comedy.  Perhaps the direction was flawed.  Perhaps it looks better on HD.  The audience laughed; was it embarrassment?  In this day of casual menages a trois this fully clothed trio did not strike me as amusing at all.

There were some arresting musical moments, especially at the climax of Act I when Rossini gives us an a cappella septet.  Secondary roles who added their voices to the mix were Susanne Resmark as the Countess’ companion, Stephane Degout as the Count’s buddy, and Michele Pertusi as his tutor, all roles well sung.

The “concept” of Bartlett Sher’s production was to present the opera with the accoutrements of a 19th c. production.  Chandeliers were hand-cranked in emulation of the Met’s own chandeliers.  The audience was able to glimpse what goes on backstage before the opera itself begins.  This was mildly interesting.  As mentioned above the costumes for the women were spectacular, sticking largely to a rosy palette but varying in period.  I spied some Empire gowns and lots of 18th c. ones.  Extravagant head dresses suggested the Middle Ages.

It appeared that quite a bit of money went into designing and casting this opera.  It seems to me that the money could have been better spent on a different opera.  There are so many excellent operas languishing for want of discovery!

(c) meche kroop

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