The Met’s Golden Count

I meant to write this last week, but, as I told my nephew, life intervenes. At the moment, I’m nursing my dog Apricot and involved in the Rites of Pre-Publication for my novel. This last should be exciting but most of the time I feel numb or depressed. But I’ll discuss that later.

The production of “Le Comte Ory” by Gioachino Rossini (1792 – 1868) was absolutely FABULOUS!!!!!! I hope this presentation on Saturday, 16 April 2011, was recorded and will be available as a DVD later on, because it’s something to watch over and over and over again! The producer, Bartlett Sher, deserves all kinds of credits and prizes for such a sumptuous and original staging!

“Le Comte Ory” has a thin plot and the protagonist and antagonist roles are blurred, but I don’t think that was the point. The setting is original–“. . .around the year 1200. . .” in France. Right away, the possibilities of creating something cheerfully Gothic abound, and this is where Sher surprised everyone. The set is simple and moves around, almost like a doll’s theater for children. In contrast, the costumes are brilliant–yards and yards of bright colors, set against the plainness of the stage and the dark colors of the three male characters. In this opera, what really and truly counts is the singing, which is bel canto, that tiny notch above great opera but just a hair below celestial voices. To have three singers–as happens in a second act trio between Ory, the Countess Adèle and the page Isolier (sung by Joyce Di Donato because castrati are really hard to come by these days–in complete harmony as they slide and writhe and move slowly around a nearly-vertical bed was so brilliant visually, aurally and operatically that it almost killed my appetite for “Die Wälkure” in May. The entire audience at the Gran Estación theater was left open-mouthed, and I imagine the same was true at the Met in New York as well as in theaters worldwide that were receiving the transmission.

“Le Comte Ory” is Rossini’s second to last comic opera, written and performed just a few years before his death. I suspect that accounts for its unusual setting. Rossini might have thought, “Oh what the hell. . .” and cast aside all the usual considerations that come to mind when composing an opera. I also suspect that few opera theater producers took his seriously afterward, because “Le Comte Ory” has not been produced very often. The production at the Metropolitan Opera is the first time that company has produced it, and I’m glad it was so successful. It’s something that should stay in the repertory for a very long time.

The most interesting note, however, did not come from the opera last Saturday, but rather from the pre-performance welcome given by soprano Renée Fleming minutes before the curtain went up. She announced that only one hour before, tenor Juan Diego Flórez had become a father! Who needs Facebook when you’ve got a live feed from backstage at the Metropolitan Opera?

At the intermission, Juan Diego Flórez explained a little breathlessly that he’d been up all night because the birth had taken place at home, that he had been able to hold his new son for a few minutes right after the birth, and then had had to race out to make it to the opera house for the afternoon’s performance. And finally, he greeted the audiences in Colombia and Peru for participating in the afternoon’s transmission. Then he raced off to get ready for Act II.

After watching the trio in Act II, I have to say that Juan Diego Flórez has the stamina of a raging bull himself. He was up all night, living through a very emotional moment, and yet, he sang his role clearly and forcefully and without once missing a note!

But I hope he got a week off after the Saturday performance. He certainly deserved it!

“Le Comte Ory” is a short opera–around two hours, tops–and Bartlett Sher’s production moves like a feather in a high wind–gracefully but quickly. You do come out thinking you’ve only seen half of it, but I’m not sure another hour or two would improve the experience. It’s breathless and light and bewitching, and after a while, you wonder why other operas can’t be like that?

I had not even heard of this opera before I saw the Met’s ads for it when I went to see “Lucia di Lammermoor” in March. But I was intrigued by the images in the still photos used in the promotion, so I took a chance and reserved my seat. WOW! Am I glad I did!!!


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