Bartlett Sher’s concept for his production of Rossini’s Le Comte Ory is a theatre within a theatre setting with scruffy bewigged footmen types operating old fashioned stage machinery. Throw in costume design that seems to cross the slutty middle ages with My Little Pony and one gets a production that would probably appeal to the average seven year old girl. Fortunately the singing and acting is really rather fine with splendid vocal contributions from Juan Diego Flórez, Joyce DiDonato and Diana Damrau well backed up by the likes of Stéphane Degout and Susanne Resmark and it’s Maurizio Benini and the Met orchestra so no problems there either. To be honest they are hamming it up for all its worth but that doesn’t seem unreasonable in this very silly piece. The second act trio which features some mind boggling gender bending with the three principals swapping partners faster than Liz Taylor swapped husbands is hilarious.
Emilio Sagi’s 2005 production of Il Barbiere di Siviglia is incredibly elegant and restrained. It looks like something by Robert Carsen. The sets are all constructed and transformed in full view and just about everything is black and white until the final scene. There is a lot of background action and commentary from a talented group of dancers who give a very Spanish feel to the piece. The final scene bursts into vivid, even loud, colour and the finale is just gorgeous to look at. The direction of the actors is well thought out too though they do seem to sing from on top of furniture a lot of the time.
Laurent Pelly’s 2007 production of Donizetti’s La Fille du Régiment was a coproduction of the Royal Opera House, The Metropolitan Opera and the Wiener Staatsoper which one make expect to produce a stodgy snoozefest. It’s not. It’s a fast paced, energetic and funny production. There’s nothing especially cleverly conceptual about it but its well designed, well directed and well played. If one were to be hyper critical it would be that the humour in Act 2 is rather laid on with a trowel but it’s not too seriously overdone. The setting is updated from the wars of the first Napoleon to something vaguely WW1 like. In some ways this doesn’t make a whole lot of sense but it does provide a visual “Frenchness” that’s probably easier for modern audiences and, anyway, the libretto as originally written is about as historically accurate as the average piece of bel canto fluff. Best not get into serious military history buff territory and get on and enjoy the show.
Rossini’s Le Comte Ory is a very silly opera about the wicked count and his equally randy page scheming to get into the pants of the virtuous, more or less, Countess Adele while all the local men, including the countess’ brother are off at the crusades. To this end in Act 1 the count appears disguised as a hermit and in Act 2 as a nun. Add to the silliness a fiendishly difficult set of vocal parts and you have a sort of bel canto comedy extreme. To up the ante, today’s Comte, Juan-Diego Florez had been up all night waiting for his wife to pop a pup which she did 35 minutes before curtain.
It was fun. It is silly and funny and musically engaging and all the principal singers were quite excellent in both singing and acting departments. The detailed direction of the acting was very effective too. First place among the cast perhaps goes to Diana Damrau as the countess. She sang as well as I’ve heard anyone in quite a while with fabulous control and great comic timing but that’s not to take anything away from the other principals. The highlight was probably the trio where the countess, the count and the page Isolier (Joyce diDonato) are in bed together and thoroughly enjoying the multiple gender bending opportunities.
The production concept and design wasn’t so convincing. The idea was that it was being staged in Rossini’s time using the resources that a modest company of the day might have used. This turned out to be a lot of old fashioned stage machinery operated by derelicts in grubby pink footman outfits, including at one point crawling around waving cat toys. Costumes were intended to be what an early 19th century opera company could rustle up to suggest France in 1200. This mostly meant generic fairy tale with a dose of 15th century armour, at least in Act 1. The unifying concept seemed to be heaving bosoms. Act 2 got slightly weirder with the “ladies” of the castle in a mix of fairy tale, BBC Jane Austen and Yonge Street adult novelty store wear. All in all, not especially inspired.
I’m not really sure about the orchestral playing as for the most part the voices were balanced so far forward it was hard to hear much of the band. Technically, the sound was so-so with muddy ensembles and a few drop outs. Direction was, as ever, over fond of super close ups and silly angles. This got especially silly in the nuns’ drinking chorus where the solidity of the bottles’ contents was very apparent. (FWIW glass bottles in France in 1200 – also windows… OK it’s Rossini).
In the last analysis though the singing and acting more than made up for the silly concept and sloppy design and overall it was very enjoyable.
On a personal note I got to chat with Lawrence Brownlee (at some length) and Leonardo Vordoni (briefly) in the interval. They are in town rehearsing the COC’s La Cenerentola which I’ll see on May 13.