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Juan Diego Flórez as Count Ory (disguised as the Nun) [Photo by Marty Sohl courtesy of The Metropolitan Opera]
28 Mar 2011

Le Comte Ory, Metropolitan Opera

Rossini’s penultimate stage work, Le Comte Ory, belongs to the tradition of sexy scoundrel operas, along with such works as Don Giovanni, Zampa, Fra Diavolo, Barbe-Bleu, Les Brigands and Threepenny Opera.

Gioachino Rossini: Le Comte Ory

Comtesse Adèle: Diana Damrau; Isolier: Joyce Di Donato; Comte Ory: Juan Diego Flórez; Ragonde: Susanne Resmark; Tutor: Michele Pertusi; Raimbaud: Stéphane Degout. Production by Bartlett Sher. Metropolitan Opera chorus and orchestra conducted by Maurizio Benini. Performance of March 24.

Above: Juan Diego Flórez as Count Ory (disguised as the Nun)

All photos by Marty Sohl courtesy of The Metropolitan Opera


You could make a case for adding supernatural scamps like Der Vampyr and Tannhäuser to the list. The hero may be a rogue—in fact, rogue is his job description—and may even be a cutthroat or worse, but he’s a lovable fellow for all that. And he almost never gets to home plate with the ladies whose hearts he flutters; the censors wouldn’t have stood for it. Thus the joke of Gilbert and Sullivan’s spoof in The Pirates of Penzance: Their chorus-full of reckless rogues lust “to be married with impunity” to the bevy of helpless females they are about to abduct. (Is it coincidence that most of the sexy scoundrel operas are French? No.)

COMTE_ORY_Pertusi_as_Tutor_.gifMichele Pertusi as The Tutor

The censors wouldn’t have stood for it then, but there are no censors now, and opera directors are all for full disclosure. This mars Bartlett Sher’s colorful if bare-bones staging of Le Comte Ory for the Met. Consider the final trio: Ory, our scoundrel, has disguised himself as a nun in order to enter Countess Adèle’s bed in her darkened chamber. Unbeknownst to him (but obvious enough to us), Adèle’s young suitor, Isolier, is also present, and in fact the Count is embracing Isolier as Isolier embraces Adèle. If this seems a bit racy for 1828, even in Paris, ne vous-inquiètez pas: Isolier is played by a mezzo soprano. Audiences didn’t mind watching a man fiddle with a boy so long as the boy was obviously a woman. (The first time I saw this opera, Lucky Pierre—sorry, Isolier—was played by a countertenor; he seemed to be enjoying the situation.)

But in Sher’s production, all three persons scramble around each other among the bedclothes as if this were just an ordinary three-way with no story to tell, and it is impossible for the Count not to be aware that he is in bed with two other people. Adèle, too, should not be aware of what is going on; here she’s a merry participant. It may seem a small point, and everybody around me found the slapstick hilarious, but the premises of farce must be taken seriously for the mad machine to work properly. Either Joyce DiDonato is a man or she isn’t; if she isn’t, why does Adèle hope to marry her? If she is, why does the skirt-chasing Count enjoy being in bed with him? It’s as if Lucy schemed to divorce Desi and demanded custody of his band: It violates the clear farcical contract for which we have been so carefully set up.

COMTE_ORY_Degout_as_Raimbau.gifStéphane Degout as Raimbaud

Sher, as in his previous Met shows, Barbiere and Hoffmann, is always willing to dump the plot to insert a dumb joke; this was also true in his disastrous staging of Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. He only seems capable of theatrical discipline if the piece is, like South Pacific, sacrosanct, guarded by those who can keep him in line. He has no theatrical clarity of his own. Is this sort of anything-for-a-laugh mayhem what Peter Gelb means when he refers to a “new realism” in the opera house?

The singers have been encouraged not to play this charming piece straight. I would find the evening pleasanter (and probably funnier) if Diana Damrau, a fine singer as well as a fine comic actress, sang the dizzy Countess’s fruity tunes with a bit more attention to proper line and with fewer wildly mugged high notes, and if Juan Diego Flórez’s nasal tenor, never the most sensuous of instruments, were not quite so dry. He is choosing roles lately that do not exhibit his extraordinary virtuosity, and his is not an instrument to make it in bel canto otherwise. There are many far prettier tenor voices around.

COMTE_ORY_Damrau_Florez_DiD.gifDiana Damrau as Countess Adle, Joyce DiDonato as Isolier, and Juan Diego Flórez as Count Ory

What, I wonder, would Rothenberger and Gedda have made of the bedroom trio? With, say, Teresa Berganza as Isolier? I can’t help thinking they’d have each contrived to keep one foot on the floor, in old-time Hollywood fashion, but they would still have been funnier than Sher’s staging, and they would have sounded like a glimpse of heaven.

Joyce DiDonato, as Isolier, is a lovely performer who does not let her farce-making get in the way of torrents of beautiful Rossini, as heartfelt as they are pure. She is the reason to visit Le Comte Ory and the reason to linger to the very end. Susanne Resmark revealed a most attractive alto voice with more to display than was evident here in the Margaret Dumont-like housekeeper role. Michele Pertusi was all that could be desired as the Tutor and Stéphane Degout filled our grateful ears with dark baritone during his drinking song. Maurizio Benini kept the orchestral sound low so as not to interfere with singers’ audibility, though as Sher (as usual) pushed them all to the edge of the stage apron, this was probably unnecessary. In the old days, and not so very old either, singers could fill the Met from mid-stage and revel in the filling.

John Yohalem

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