What's Playing? - Metropolitan Opera Giacchino Rossini's "Le Comte Ory" / Arden Anderson Broecking
Though I loved going to the Met in New York for many years, I am finding the real-time HD opportunities to be even more interesting. There is so much more detail available, and you're not glued to a pair of opera glasses. Facial expressions and emotional reactions are clear, and in the case of this last weekend's performance of a wonderful operatic romp, Giacchino Rossini's "Le Comte Ory," that closeness was almost essential.
This was the first production ever of this piece by the Metroplolitan Opera, though it is quite well known in other parts of the world, and in the 50's, Boris Goldovsky produced it at Tanglewood. Rossini is best known for "Il Barbiere di Siviglia," with good reason, but "Le Comte Ory" one of the funniest, silliest, naughtiest and most magnificently sung pieces I've heard in a long time.
As far as singing goes, you can't do much better than put soprano Diana Damrau, mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato and tenor Juan Diego Flores together in one cast, with excellent supporting singers, and the remarkable work of the ensemble. The musical preparation for this was extraordinary, because there isn't an easy minute in it. Lyric, yes, florid, yes, full-blown, yes, but not easy. Rossini was a very demanding composer, and he would have loved this cast.
Comte Ory is a scalawag, almost a Don Giovanni, though not really evil, just libidinously naughty. He wants the Countess Adele, but so does his young page, Isolier, who as it turns out the Countess prefers. Ory works hard at trying to attract her, first disguising himself as a hermit who give advice to the lovelorn, and second as a nun that would have had the Pope talking to himself! He is hilarious, as someone pointed out, what the singers are saying and what they really are saying are two different things. The above is an oversimplification of the plot, but you get the idea. A costumed stage crew walks in and out creating whatever effects are needed, though once in a while, slightly intrusive, how ever funny, especially the crotchety old stage manager. A fake storm, dancing chandeliers and a remarkably agile bed are but a few. The ladies chorus, who led by the Countess have sworn to live as widows while their men are away at a Crusade, was outstanding in every ways singing beautifully while dealing with some really amazing hats and precariously low decolletages. The men were extremely funny, especially dressed as nuns. Three of them did a brief, hilarious dance, but of course, they didn't fool anybody. After a wild menage-a-trois for the three principals on the aforementioned bed, all the while singing flawlessly, the opera ends, rather abruptly, I admit, with a wonderful ensemble when all the ladies' husbands and brothers return victorious from the Crusades, which one we're not told. The costuming was stunning, and like a rainbow of color, though somewhat more 18th century than Crusader period, except for the armor and the headdresses.
The singing was just exquisite. The smaller roles were all very well done, however. Damrau is very likely the best coloratura around, and she proved it on this occasion, with a warm sound and a brilliant top. Flores, a superb, agile lyric tenor, kept up with her, and sang a number of high Ds and D-flats with out a touch of effort or loss of sweetness in his sound. It is easy to understand why Joyce DiDonato's career has resembled a skyrocket. She has a honeyed mezzo-soprano sound, and is undaunted by the most difficult coloratura requirements. Displaying wonderful wit, she obviously had a lot of fun, as did everyone on stage. The two supporting male roles were Raimbaud and Ory's Tutor, (long-suffering, I suspect) Stephane Dagout and Michele Pertusi, were equally well-sung with fine baritone and bass voices. Both entered into the mischief with gusto.
The conductor was Maurizio Benini, who moved the music along, but never pushed the singers, allowing them to relax into his tempi and enjoy singing their music. He was very kind about everyone's high notes, never pulling the singer ahead, but letting them, and the audience, enjoy them. The director was Bartlett Sher, who gave us the recent hit revival of "South Pacific," and "Le Comte Ory" was musical mastery and high comedy merged together by masterful hands, that of Rossini himself, and also by Sher. It was great music, great singing and great fun.