Saturday, April 9, 2011

Le Comte Ory: Ah, la bonne folie

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.

For me, though, it was the drama between Isolier and Adele which was the heart of the piece.  From first stolen glance to last passionate caress, I believed in the sexual tension between these two; the nuptial bliss foreshadowed at the conclusion seemed inevitable.  Need I add that I loved every minute of it?  Because, oh, there was singing, too.  And acting.  And I loved every minute of it.  Both women seemed on top vocal form; I'd read many laments that Isolier doesn't have more music, but DiDonato made of what she had a wonderfully rich portrayal.  From being a little awed and overwhelmed by the object of her affections at the outset, DiDonato's Isolier matured into a poised, thoughtful tenderness, through very expressive and beautiful singing. Sigh.  Damrau's Countess Adele was a joy, aware of her own sexuality and of Comte Ory's ruse.  I had 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


  1. I saw the broadcast last night.Renee Fleming hosted and announced to the world that JDF "just became a father an hour ago". The entire theatre cooed at that. And then, during the intermission, he was absolutely beside himself with new father joy. He was so cute. I thought he did remarkably well for a man who clearly wanted to be home with his family.

    I never realized, before this, just how hilarious Diana Damrau is. Her Countess was just fabulous. And her dresses! They added to her general awesome. Fantastic opera, and I will be buying the dvd if they release one.

  2. @Christie Ahh, too sweet. The gossip I miss out on by attending these shindigs live! I think they must be planning a DVD. Hard for me to imagine it succeeding with principals less stratospherically amazing than these three, but as it is, I was charmed. Completely agree with you about the fabulousness of Damrau's Countess. :)

  3. i want to see it again!!!! they simply must release a dvd or put it on metplayer:))

  4. Oh they gave a wonderful afternoon at the cinema :-) It's never going to by my fav Rossini piece but it was made fantastic by the ones who sang it, great cast and the trio was out of this world! I've always found JDF to be very very funny and his eyes sparkle! You really have to see him once in HD, you'll know what i mean ;-) Joyce is very very good always, but i get bored with pants roles, the only one i can just about put up with is Cherubino, any others just don't do it for me, however gorgeous they sing! I was slight dissapointed about the meak ending, i hadn't read the synopsis ;-)

  5. @asperias Goodness, such impatience! I'm sure they will, though perhaps not as soon as we might like.

    @Hariclea I may have to try to convert you from your boredom with trouser roles! Completely agree with you about Joyce DiDonato and the singing in general, though, and it does seem as though this piece may be more than usually dependent on that very high level of performance. I certainly get a sense of sparkle from JDF in the theatre... glad to hear that this shows to good effect.

  6. Yes, Lucy. I'm always complaining but the only slight caveat is that in the first Act on Monday Joyce sounded worse than I've ever heard her - although still very good. By the second Act she was at her best.

    Resmark: The show started late but I was stuck at work and made it only at 8:29 - I think they started at 8:31 on the dot. Thus I wasn't at all dialed in and then I heard this remarkable rich voice, beautiful on its own and rather shocking in Rossini and almost pinned me to my seat. I suppose everyone has to make their Met debut in something but she needs to come back often. Just this season she would have made a great Eboli and it'll be interesting to hear how she stacks up even to Stephanie Blythe in Walkure next week.

    Generally it seems to me she should be better known - I wasn't familiar with her until this week. Michaela Schuster seems to be very fashionable in the Wagner rep - new productions of Lohengrin in Munich, Tannhauser in Vienna and London. I haven't heard her live but from the interwebs it seems to me that Resmark is very much the more impressive vocalist.

  7. @marcillac Well, discriminating plaudits are the best kind. :) Glad to hear DiDonato warmed up, at least... will be hoping to hear her on top form as the Komponist.

    Resmark was a surprise to me too, and a similarly exciting one! I heard her and thought of Brangäne... an unexpected voice to find in Rossini, as you say. Wherever she's been all our lives (Scandinavia, it would seem) I agree that it would be great to hear more of her.


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