Le Comte Ory offers up a potent comedic cocktail of crazy disguises, games with gender, and mistaken identities (in bed!) If you're at all fond of Rossini, I imagine you have already succumbed to the charms of Juan Diego Florez, Joyce DiDonato, and Diana Damrau, who besides being stunning singers, are gorgeous and articulately charming people (it's just not fair, is it?) Here, they were at their most charming, and vocally excellent. I was hoping for something more cerebral from the candy-colored production, but I found it nigh-impossible to retain resentment when offered Joyce DiDonato in pirate boots and coat. The theater frame was unobtrusive, adding a quirky raison d'etre for chandeliers and curtains, but not extra layers of narrative significance, and all of the costumes appeared to be from the eighteenth century instead of the story's medieval setting of origin. To Bartlett Sher's credit, there was a knowing quality brought to the hijinks (most notable in the person of Diana Damrau's radiant Countess Adele) which acknowledged--if it did not really explore--many of the issues of gender roles, societal expectations based on class, and the often uneasy nearness of sexual and spiritual passions. I laughed harder than I thought, but with singing of that quality, I would have had to try very hard not to enjoy myself.
Philip Gossett, in his brilliant Divas and Scholars, describes the patchwork nature of Le Comte Ory's score, which reuses and reworks a fair bit of the earlier Viaggio a Reims. More recently, Dr. Gossett has pointed out that the music as the audiences of the current Met run are hearing it does not reflect the most recent scholarly research. The NY Times article on the subject presents the argument that presenting a little-known work for its Met closeup may not be the ideal time to work through unfamiliarities in the score, but as a toiler among manuscripts, I feel obliged to make this observation. Under Maurizio Benini, the music may not always have fizzed like champagne, but it was light and pleasant... at the very least, the sort of white wine one might happily drink too much of on a picnic. And Rossini's genius for putting comedy in the music itself was on fine display. I feel a synopsis of the opera would be almost beside the point, but there's one here, if you want it. What you need to know is: it is effervescently, exuberantly silly. The production went beyond (and sometimes a bit against) the libretto to flesh out the three main characters. Though the libretto gives Ory a reputation as a womanizer, he's here presented as decidedly good-natured, if roguish. I feel as though I should object to this on principle, but he does get charming music, and he is Juan Diego Florez, and he does accept his repulse with very good grace. And that repulse, in this production, is a foregone conclusion, because of the crackling chemistry between DiDonato's passionate, resourceful Isolier and Damrau's smart and sensual Countess.
Among the secondary roles, mezzo Susanne Resmark was a standout as Ragonde. Her sound was beautifully full and rich; this role marks her Met debut, and I'll be hoping to hear more of her. Stéphane Degout's vocally and physically athletic Raimbaud was so different from his dreamy Pelleas that I double-checked my program, but it was an impressive performance. Either I was adjusting to this, or it took him a little while to fully warm up, but he gave a vivid performance and delivered his drinking song with panache. The three principals seemed in their element; I thought they were fantastic. On arriving home, I learned from Opera Chic that audience favorite Florez had the best possible excuse for sounding a trifle fatigued; on a scale of Florez' Rossini performances, though, this works out to "less than completely effortless in appearance." I still thought he was delightful, inhabiting the persona of the charming-and-knows-it count with a metaphorical nod and wink to the audience; the moment when Ory revealed his true identity by tossing off his hermit's robes and a high D (?) was hilariously perfect. From the ingratiating sweetness of the "hermit's" music to confident runs and mischievous high notes as the scheming count, Florez handled Rossini with the vocal excellence and buoyant charm that I've come to expect from him.
cause to note before that she's a great comedienne, but must say again: the woman is hilarious. I didn't notice the restraint which reviews from earlier performances had alleged; I thought she brimmed with vocal energy. Her coloratura was both dazzling and dazzlingly expressive. And in Damrau's hands the Countess, too, got to grow towards a more fearless and independent self-awareness (hooray!) Much has been made of the final trio as threesome, but as a trio, it has astonishingly elegant and beautiful music, the intertwining lines of which the three singers handled very stylishly indeed. All's well that ends well, as Ory is taught something about love, and Isolier and the Countess Adele prepare to share the rest of their lives learning about it. And the audience went home happy.
|Degout in piratical trousers, nun's wimple; Resmark in headdress.|
|Joyce DiDonato! I <3 her, and I want her boots|
|Gorgeous Diana Damrau, slightly blurry while bowing|