Pesaro – Le Comte Ory

As I previously mentioned Le Comte Ory was one of the first, if not the first recording I ever bought and I recall seeing pictures of that 1954-56 Glyndebourne production and being enchanted by Oliver Messel’s wonderful vision of it as scenes from a Book of Hours. (Left, Act 2 from that production – the Countess with the knights desguised as nuns.) When it was presented in Ottawa in 1978, back in the golden days of the Summer Festival I finally got to see it on stage. The production again was staged in the period of the Crusades with marvelous designs by Marc Negin. My friend Cathy shared some memories of her appearance in it, in the Comments section last week.

Here at Pesaro director/designer Lluis Pasqual had a different vision of it. In his production, first created in 2003, the opera is a “society game” – much like charades or a scavenger hunt – played by guests of the Hotel Rossini in the 1930s. As a concept it had its moments but anyone not familiar with the story of the profligate count and his attempts to seduce the virtuous Countess while her menfolk are away at the Crusades would have been lost. Still as “concepts” go it was not all that bad, particularly when compared to a few I have witnessed in the past few months, . Other than adding a lesbian overtone to the Comtesse-Isolier relationship it honestly didn’t do any great damage to what is, after all, an extended vaudeville or boulevard farce that doesn’t beg for any great psychological insight.

And fortunately the music Rossini provided is a constant delight. Glorious number follows glorious number in a succession of bubbling chorus, drinking songs, faux-laments, duets leading to quartets leading to extended ensembles for seven unaccompanied voices and that final sublime trio for the Comtesse, Comte and Isolier. Even if he did “borrow” half the numbers from Il Viaggio a Rheims, Rossini spent a wealth of musical invention on his second to last opera.

Maestro Crignani leads the cast in bows at the end of Comte Ory, August 11, 2009.

Musically things were in the capable hands of conductor Paolo Crignani, who had an obvious feel for the work. There was a lightness to his approach that allowed him to give certain passages the drive needed to move things along without making things sound rushed.

Any tenor singing certain roles today is going to be in the shadow of Rossini tenor par excellence Juan Diego Florez; that Yijie Shi was appearing in a production originally built around JDF could not have been an easy task. He emerged from the experience with honours; though certain passages betrayed the bleat often associated with “Rossini tenors” he handled the extremely difficult vocal line well. As an actor he wasn’t terribly convincing as a profligate or dangerous seducer but did convey a certain charm.

Sadly soprano Maria Jo�se Moreno was done in by aspirants that spoiled what are suppose to be the long lines of the Comtesse’s first act aria. It was less noticeable the rest of the evening though a few of her high notes were on the tentative side. Physically she looked stunning in the evening dresses and peignoirs reminiscent of Jean Harlow. Laura Polverelli was an adequate if unexciting Isolier and Natalia Gavrilan made much of Dame Ragonde.

Roberto de Candia stole the evening as the Comte’s comrade in revelry Raimbaud and his drinking song with chorus of faux-nuns was a real highlight. And kudos to the Prague Chamber Chorus who cavorted as society folk disguised as peasants, ladies of honour, knights and drag-nuns.

It says a great deal about the opera itself, or perhaps about my love it, that even with a less than distinguised cast and an indifferent production it still was a delightful evening and only made me realize why I love it so much.

As a footnote: the audience seemed to be sitting on their collective hands for much of the evening. There was no sense of joy in their response which was lukewarm at best. In fact when I applauded enthusiastically for de Candia two of the people in my box glared at me if though I was interrupting holy communion. For god sake people this was Rossini not Wagner!

17 agosto – San Mamete

Mercoledi Musicale

Last night we saw the first of the three operas at this year’s Rossini Festival – Le Comte Ory, which I will be reporting on later. It has always been my favorite Rossini work and was the first LP* I ever owned. Written for Paris in 1828, Rossini never one to lose good numbers, reused a great deal of Il Viaggio a Rheims that had been written three years preivous for the coronation of Charles X.

It was not until it was revived at Glyndebourne in 1954 that it entered the modern repetorie. Here’s the first act finale from a later Glyndebourne production.

Young Comte Ory, a wastrel, takes advantage of the absence of the local gentry at the crusades to try and seduce their ladies. Disguised first as a hermit then as a nun he attempts to enter the castle and the bed of the beautiful Countess of Formoutiers. As Act 1 ends he’s been unmasked as the Hermit and news arrives that the Countess’s brother is returning with his men from the Crusade.

*For the young ones an LP was a long playing record – a black vinyl disk that you put on a turntable and … forget it you wouldn’t believe me if I told you.

12 agosto – Santa Giovanna Francesca de Chantal