You may not have heard of Le comte Ory (Count Ory) by Gioacchino Rossini. Don’t feel too badly if you are unfamiliar with this work; many seasoned opera-goers have not yet seen it. Count Ory was the penultimate opera that Rossini composed. The debut was in Paris in August of 1828 (Some of the music in Count Ory originates from his opera Il viaggio a Reims written three years earlier).
His last opera was William Tell, which was first performed one year later in August of 1829, also in Paris. Rossini was a very prolific composer and turned out operas in swift succession throughout his life just as he did towards the end of his career.
Seattle Opera’s production of Count Ory opened on the 6th of August, 2016 and runs until the 20th of August. It stays true to the comedic intent of the work, which was originally performed at the Paris Opera house. The work is classified as an opera, not as a comic opera, despite the fact that the story is quite humorous.
The setting of the opera is the time of the Crusades, around 1200 AD in Touraine. The action happens in the castle of Formoutiers where the lords and men of the castle have been away on a crusade. The wily Count Ory devises a clever ruse to pose as a wise hermit to try to enchant the ladies who are currently unaccompanied, especially the lovely Countess Adèle. Unsuccessful in his initial efforts to woo the Countess Adèle, he then poses in Act II as one of the female pilgrims requesting shelter in the castle, “Sister Colette.” In parallel with the count’s attempts at seduction, the count’s page Isolier also has designs on the lovely Countess.
While the plot is relatively straight-forward, the elements of comedy, especially physical comedy, are integral to the enjoyment of the opera. The sets in the Seattle Opera production are quite fanciful, and provide a kind of surreal backdrop for the action of the story.
On opening night Lawrence Brownlee put on a great show as Count Ory, dressed first as a hermit, then subsequently as a nun. As always, the rest of the cast was very strong, and he was very well-supported by the other principals along with the chorus on stage.
It is interesting that a Mezzo-Soprano has historically interpreted the role of the young page Isolier, and Hanna Hipp did a great job of posing as a young man, full of desire for the exquisite Countess. Equally interesting is the fact that for this production Count Ory’s cadre of men dressed as nuns to help complete the charade. The boisterous chorus written by Rossini framed the scene with the group of men disguised as nuns beautifully.
Seattle Opera has chosen to have the chorus enter the stage from within the theatre in a few scenes. From the orchestra section it was possible to hear the clanking of the armor of the count’s men, the giggling of the men posing as nuns, and the collective “bonjour” called out by the merrymakers as they made their way down the aisles. Next to the spectacle, the true star of the show was Rossini’s beautiful music. The trio between Count Ory, Countess Adèle, and Isolier at the end of Act II was melodic and engaging; it exposed the true genius of Rossini.
The production by Seattle Opera is a rollicking, zany, and truly entertaining interpretation of Rossini’s last comedic opera. For more information: https://www.seattleopera.org/on-stage/the-wicked-adventures-of-count-ory/