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Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Opera Review: Have More Fun in Bed

Le Comte Ory at the Metropolitan Opera.
by Paul Pelkonen
Diana Damrau, Joyce DiDonato and Juan Diego Flórez get cozy in Le Comte Ory.
Photo by Marty Sohl © 2011 The Metropolitan Opera.
The Metropolitan Opera's stellar bel canto franchise rolls on with Tuesday night's performance of Le Comte Ory, Rossini's final comic opera. Written in 1827, Ory is a comic soufflée, a Rossini rarity that has never graced the Met's stage before this season. The opera features third reunion of tenor Juan Diego Flórez and soprano Diana Damrau. This winning combination was enhanced by the addition of mezzo Joyce DiDonato in a trouser role.

Mr. Flórez played the love-struck, titular Count with energy and charm. In the first act, he sounded like he was conserving his voice for the fireworks to come. He compensated with a huge fake beard, pretending to be a wise hermit in an attempt to seduce the Countess Adèle (Ms. Damrau) and every other woman in the cast. The first act was played with sunny verve from the game ensemble players, and featured some stellar high notes from Ms. Damrau. However, the overall effect was one of polite, pretty restraint.

It was in the nocturnal second act that the opera took wing. Mr. Flórez, now decked out in a nun's habit and wimple, sang a glorious duet with Ms. Damrau, letting their remarkable voices fly free. This is also the point where Ms. DiDonato's character becomes key to the plot, as Ory's romantic rival for Adéle. This leads to a classic French farce, with all three principals intertwining vocal lines (and limbs) in a grand trio sung in the Countess' bed.

Other highlights of Act II were the rollocking drinking song, sung with style by baritone Stéphane Degout in the comprimario role of Raimbaud. This provided plenty of opportunity for comic business and clowning by the Met men's chorus. As they swaggered and pranced in their nun's habits, they looked like a road company version of Suor Angelica out on the town for a good time. In the middle of all this tomfoolery, Monica Yunus provided excellent support as Alice, Adele's suspicious servant, and Michele Pertusi held down the bottom end as the Tutor.

This is director Bartlett Sher's second Rossini opera at the Met, and in many ways it feels like a sequel to his Barber of Seville. But while Barber referenced Looney Tunes, Ory drew its comic inspiration from the movies of Mel Brooks, specifically History of the World, Part I. Key to all this comedy was the newly created character of the Prompter. This role was played by dancer Rob Besserer, and served a similar function to his portrayal of Ambrogio in Barber: mute comic relief.

Mr. Sher has Ory play out in a crude wood-and-plaster theater, complete with painted flats, rolling staircases and the requisite arboretum, a visual nod to the Barber. Old-fashioned painted flats and candelabras (with real candles) add to the period feel.  Visible stagehands crank flywheels, manhandle props and set off crude special effects, including thunder-sheets, magic-lantern lightning and a wind machine "liberated" from the Met orchestra pit.  Maurizio Benini led a fizzy performance, but only when prompted to start by Mr. Besserer, who banged a large stick (Lully-style) on the rough wooden stage.
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Critical Thinking in the Cheap Seats

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Since 2007, Superconductor has grown from an occasional concert or CD review to a near-daily publication covering classical music, opera and the arts in and around NYC, with excursions to Boston, Philadelphia, and upstate NY. I am a freelance writer living and working in Brooklyn NY. And no, I'm not a conductor.