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Notes and Editorial Reviews
Will give hours of pleasure.
First seen in 1828 at the Paris Opera, Le Comte Ory was Rossini’s penultimate opera and his last comedy. Six numbers were “borrowed” from Il viaggio a Reims, which had been rather a private, limited-run affair from three years prior composed to celebrate the coronation of Charles X, but the re-cycled material translated well to Ory. Along with the new numbers the composer wove a tight, just-over-two-hour comic masterpiece out of a flimsy plot: A randy young Count, hearing that all of the men at a castle have gone off to fight in the Crusades, arrives with his men to seduce the women; he is disguised as an ascetic hermit. Just as he is getting somewhere with the melancholy Countess, his
tutor comes and unmasks him. The second act finds the Count and his men back at the castle, disguised as nuns—a funny enough image just to imagine—and late in the opera the Count, his Page, Isolier, and the Countess all wind up in bed together. The music is endlessly witty, rhythmically ever-changing, unexpectedly mellow at times, and spicy with woodwinds.
This is the Met’s first-ever production of the work. Recorded in April, 2011, it is a blaze of colors (costumes by Catherine Zuber). Bartlett Sher, by now an old Rossini hand (his Barbiere of a few seasons ago is charming) directs on Michael Yeargan’s sets, which for some reason suggests that we are watching a troupe perform an opera: we can see the ropes and pulleys that move the backdrops and chandeliers, and there’s a crooked old man (more a stage manager than the “prompter” he’s referred to in the program) who gives orders and operates the thunder sheet. There’s nothing in Ory that suggests such a stage-within-a-stage approach, but it does allow for a smaller playing area, and perhaps making the story more intimate was the point. You get the feeling Sher could have allowed for some more imaginative blocking late in the opera, but it’s all in good fun and rarely stoops to conquer.
And what a cast the Met has put together! The title role is taken by Juan Diego Florez, handsome, sly, and tonally shiny, tossing off high notes as if they were easy. Rossini writes high Cs in mid-phrases here: they’re just part of the vocal décor rather than show-stoppers, and so Florez’s ease with them is doubly welcome. He can’t keep his hands off the Countess, here played by Diana Damrau, who acts with just the right oxymoronic ladylike lust. And while her vocal embellishments are occasionally over the top, she’s so secure and charismatic that they never spoil the line. The amazing mezzo Joyce DiDonato sings Isolier (who is enamored of the Countess and vice-versa); there seems to be nothing her voice cannot do and she moves as if she owns the stage. When these three leads wind up in bed near the opera’s close for their 10-minute trio, (“À la faveur de cette nuit obscure”), we don’t care that such a confusion could never take place in Sher’s odd staging of the piece, we’re just grateful to hear such subtle, glorious Rossini singing.
Stéphane Degout, as the Count’s energetic friend Raimbaud, is splendid in the big number in which he and his cronies, still dressed as nuns, discover a cache of wine; his patter and coloratura alternate with bawdy outbursts and then sudden returns to pious music-making from his pals to fool the castle’s women. Michele Pertusi is weak as the Count’s Tutor, and Susanne Resmark, as the Countess’s companion, Ragonde, has trouble with the coloratura but adds a nice, Mistress Quickly-like dark tone to the ensembles.
Maurizio Benini manages to keep the many disparate parts together and leads with great consideration for the singers. He understands that this opera is stylistically different from, say L’Italiana… or Barbiere, and refuses to make a ruckus. Ory became an instant audience favorite at the Met and this DVD will help spread the good word. The clear subtitles are in all major European languages, and a bonus feature allows us backstage at the Met and features shallow interviews with the cast. There is no track listing in the accompanying booklet: this is becoming the norm, and it’s a bad idea. There is only one competing DVD, a 1997 performance from Glyndebourne on Kultur, but this one is way ahead of it.
-- Robert Levine, ClassicsToday.com
Comte Ory was premiered in 1828. It finally made it to the Met in 2011, and to celebrate the occasion this performance was beamed live into cinemas around the world and now gets its release on DVD. The long delay in it reaching New York is easy to explain. The three principals all have to be
bel canto wonders, tossing off high notes, roulades and runs with merry abandon. Happily, the Met assembled probably the three finest exponents of these roles you could find anywhere today.
No-one would even consider mounting
Ory without a tenor of near miraculous flexibility to sing the title role. Enter Juan Diego Flórez, a
bel canto singer without parallel, who previously added Ory to his repertoire at the Rossini Festival in Pesaro - and made an audio recording for DG in 2003. I’ve been lucky enough to hear Flórez in the theatre a few times and every time I come away marvelling that such sounds as his are possible. We’ll never know for sure, but I’m certain that even in Rossini’s own day the composer himself never heard his work sung as well as this. The purity and lightness of Flórez’s voice is astounding. The pyrotechnics of the Count’s part are despatched with miraculous ease, and he scales the dizzy heights above the stave without so much as breaking a sweat, let alone pausing for breath. Not everyone enjoys the sheer brightness of his voice, and for some his timbre is like being dazzled by oncoming headlights, but I’m a fully signed up fan and I think his colour suits the repertoire (and the role) very well. He isn’t quite so skilled as an actor, and the moments where he cavorts around dressed as a Mother Superior are pretty hackneyed, more often than not reverting to a stock gesture or expression, but you’d have to be the most devoted adherent to the
Gesamtkunstwerk principle to object to his performance on the basis of this. If we ever hear another Ory as good as this then I’ll be very surprised.
Happily, he is partnered by two ladies who are just as good. DiDonato’s voice has a masculine edge to it that makes her idea for breeches roles like this. She turns Isolier, Ory’s page and admirer of the Countess, into a believable, love-struck boy and the sheer security of her tone is a marvel to behold. She isn’t required to scale the heights like her colleagues, but she is just as effective in her range as they are and it’s a joy to see and hear her in what she does. Diana Damrau has less form in the
bel canto repertoire, but she takes to the virtuoso role of the Countess like a duck to water. The voice is rich and full at every level, for all the demands that are placed upon it above the stave, and her entrance aria in particular is outstanding. In the lesser roles, Stéphane Degout plays Raimbaud as a loveable rogue, using his extremely beautiful voice to make this roguish character actually rather likeable. Michele Pertusi in the role of Ory’s tutor is more cardboard, though his deep bass forms a good contrast to the rest of the cast, as does the plummy alto of Susanne Resmark.
Bartlett Sher’s production is less fun, unfortunately. Sher sets the scene in an 18
th century theatre for no good reason other than that it means he doesn’t have to bother with cumbersome castle sets and interiors, something he as good as admits in his backstage interview included as an extra. This factor doesn’t get in the way too much, though there is no shortage of dumb “stage hands” lumbering across the set drawing attention to the mechanics, but it adds nothing and all seems a bit unnecessary. Why not just trust the text? The only part of his production that I found actively unpleasant, however, was his staging of the delightful final trio which he turns into a three-in-a-bed grope, distasteful and unnecessary to me. The costumes are sumptuous, contrasting with the often bare surroundings, but the hyperactive camera-work becomes a bit off-putting after a while: in order to capture the action as best they can for a live audience, the Met have a myriad of cameras whizzing all over the proscenium. Too often they can’t resist the temptation to show off what they can do. Benini’s conducting is solid, but perhaps a little too four-square for a light-hearted work like this, so that sometimes the sheer frothy enjoyment of the work gets lost. However, the orchestra plays very well for him.
Make no mistake, though, it is for Flórez, Damrau and DiDonato that you should buy this set. Their performances alone will give hours of pleasure.
-- Simon Thompson, MusicWeb International
Works on This Recording
Le Comte Ory by Gioachino Rossini
Michele Pertusi (Bass),
Stèphane Degout (Baritone),
Juan Diego Flórez (Tenor),
Joyce DiDonato (Mezzo Soprano),
Diana Damrau (Soprano),
Susanne Resmark (Alto)
Metropolitan Opera Orchestra
Written: 1828; Italy
Average Customer Review: ( 3 Customer Reviews )
Good, Better, the Best! May 9, 2012
By Kristin S. (Saltspring Island, British Columbia) See All My Reviews
"This Rossini opera was absolutely dependent on the vocal abilities and stage craft of the lead singers, and in this production they gave of their best very successfully. The action moved well and the voices kept the viewer ready to hear what was to come next. The staging was good, interesting, and the acting part of stage manager was pulled the whole production together. I'm looking forward to watching the opera again, certain that I will find much more to enjoy."
Fine Cast Suffers from Sub-par Direction April 10, 2012
By K.William Harter (Alexandria, VA) See All My Reviews
"Having just seen this new DVD, it does justice to the performance which I saw live at the Met. Ingredients include perfect Rossini casting, with Juan Diego Flores in the eponymous title role, along with Diana Damrau as the Countess and (a trousered) Joyce DiDonato as the page-cum-romantic-rival Isolier. The opera itself is a tad on the fluffy side (although the plot is cute), much of the music being familiar (read: "recycled")from " Il Viaggio a Reims" . The singing is absolutely up to the expectations one has from such a stellar cast. The Met Opera Orchestra, under Maurizio Benini, was competent and solid. The costumes are brilliant/"to die for" , if somewhat idiosyncratic and anachronistic. Given that the opera has been re-set into the 19th century, we glimpse the fashions of the 17th and 18th centuries, as well as the era-appropriate Empire fashions. So why 4-star, not 5 ? The direction came across as having stifled the numerous opportunities and possibilities for fire and sparks among such a peerless group of principals. The director, Bartlett Sher, has provided us with a resonable concept and setting, but his control over the actions and interactions seemed heavy-handed. The blocking seemed awkward. Nothing seems to flow or flower quite as much as situations and Rossini's music might otherwise have done."
Rossini's Le Comte Ory (Met Opera production) April 10, 2012
By Karen Taylor (Walnut Creek, CA) See All My Reviews
"I'd seen the direct broadcast of Le Comte Ory, through the Met Opera, and had hoped that I could purchase the DVD through their store. You provided it first at a good price. The opera is delightfully done, the music is typical Rossini and the plot is performed with great humor by three excellent singers who are also great actors. I'm so pleased to be able to see it whenever I want."