Rossini’s le Comte Ory, 1828

The ultimate comic opera?

‘Revolutionary’ is a frequent description.  It challenged the established forms of opera comique.  Le Comte Ory was revolutionary in its employment of larger-scale forms, heavier orchestration, more demanding vocal writing, and use of recitative in the service of a comedic libretto. (Juillard) Popular short lyric numbers and spoken dialogue had been unconventionally expanded into highly developed arias and choruses accompanied by recitative.  We are the lucky beneficiaries of these moving and delightful advances. (Berkshire Fine Arts on our production)  

Going French

The entire opera is both totally Rossini and totally Gallic to the core. Rossini never wrote anything wittier, more sophisticated, or more delightful. Every page is a miracle…. First and foremost, of course, was the language itself. French did not lend itself to the amount of lavish vocal ornamentation that was such an important part of Rossini’s Italian operas. The sound of the language and its prosody would affect the music, as would French pride in their literary tradition which included opera libretti. The musical forms used in French opera were larger
and more elaborate, and the chorus was often a more integral part of the score. In addition, the orchestras at his disposal in Paris were better than any with which he had worked. (Excerpted from Paul Thomason’s interesting essay on Rossini’s Gallic transformation, spruiking a 2011 Met production with Diana Damrau, Juan Diego Florez and Joyce DiDonato, pictured on this page)

The Music - and its Characters

Some acting required here! Watch Diana Damrau and Juan Diego Florez in the Act  2 duet. As to the famous final trio – “Do not let that gentle oom-pah-pah accompaniment fool you. Rossini’s insinuating music is hot.” (NY Times)   And it’s clear here, if not before, that the Count is Rossini’s hero.
Cecilia Bartoli: If you can sing Rossini in your career you will have a long one, and your instrument [i.e. the voice] will stay healthy. This is because with Rossini you need to keep your voice agile. Extension is very important, plus agility, breath control, legato, and you have to sing with coloratura, as well as being able to sustain long beautiful phrases without coloratura! All this is what you really need to be a good singer! Why doesn't everyone sing Rossini? Because Rossini is difficult!

Fabulous or faulty?

We found only one thoughtful criticism of this most praised opera. Why? Then and now it seems to have triumphed by novelty, and by the technical brilliance of a few highlights. Yet it’s far less dramatically coherent than Barber; its crass story line from a medieval ballad offers even less character development than the Cinderella myth and its message is hard to swallow even with the most brilliant music.   Only Opera Today takes a negative view: The piece has suffered from from the beginning from its piecemeal and slapdash dramaturgy, and it has not aged well. Only the farcical context of the story line rendered its “sexual politics” tolerable in 1828, and today its total reliance on the idea that seduction of the innocent is not just tolerable but uproariously funny means that even the most delicately contrived staging is going to exude the lingering odor of long- used locker rooms.

Quick Links

Synopsis, Our performance Review Glyndebourne version  (no subtitles)

Friday June 16th