Le Comte Ory

Rossini’s Le Comte Ory is a very silly opera about the wicked count and his equally randy page scheming to get into the pants of the virtuous, more or less, Countess Adele while all the local men, including the countess’ brother are off at the crusades. To this end in Act 1 the count appears disguised as a hermit and in Act 2 as a nun. Add to the silliness a fiendishly difficult set of vocal parts and you have a sort of bel canto comedy extreme. To up the ante, today’s Comte, Juan-Diego Florez had been up all night waiting for his wife to pop a pup which she did 35 minutes before curtain.

It was fun. It is silly and funny and musically engaging and all the principal singers were quite excellent in both singing and acting departments. The detailed direction of the acting was very effective too. First place among the cast perhaps goes to Diana Damrau as the countess. She sang as well as I’ve heard anyone in quite a while with fabulous control and great comic timing but that’s not to take anything away from the other principals. The highlight was probably the trio where the countess, the count and the page Isolier (Joyce diDonato) are in bed together and thoroughly enjoying the multiple gender bending opportunities.

The production concept and design wasn’t so convincing. The idea was that it was being staged in Rossini’s time using the resources that a modest company of the day might have used. This turned out to be a lot of old fashioned stage machinery operated by derelicts in grubby pink footman outfits, including at one point crawling around waving cat toys. Costumes were intended to be what an early 19th century opera company could rustle up to suggest France in 1200. This mostly meant generic fairy tale with a dose of 15th century armour, at least in Act 1. The unifying concept seemed to be heaving bosoms. Act 2 got slightly weirder with the “ladies” of the castle in a mix of fairy tale, BBC Jane Austen and Yonge Street adult novelty store wear. All in all, not especially inspired.

I’m not really sure about the orchestral playing as for the most part the voices were balanced so far forward it was hard to hear much of the band. Technically, the sound was so-so with muddy ensembles and a few drop outs. Direction was, as ever, over fond of super close ups and silly angles. This got especially silly in the nuns’ drinking chorus where the solidity of the bottles’ contents was very apparent. (FWIW glass bottles in France in 1200 – also windows… OK it’s Rossini).

In the last analysis though the singing and acting more than made up for the silly concept and sloppy design and overall it was very enjoyable.

On a personal note I got to chat with Lawrence Brownlee (at some length) and Leonardo Vordoni (briefly) in the interval. They are in town rehearsing the COC’s La Cenerentola which I’ll see on May 13.

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