[Broadway Ad Network]

[Broadway Ad Network]

Follow Spot
by Michael Portantiere

The Nun's Story

  • Ory-caption.jpg

    We've seen lots of men in drag on New York stages lately, from Priscilla Queen of the Desert to Where's Charley? to La Cage aux Folles to The Divine Sister. Nuns are also big in shows these days, as in Sister Act, High, and (again) The Divine Sister. The Metropolitan Opera has coincidentally followed both of these trends with its production of Rossini's Le Comte Ory, a comic opera that is rarely revived -- for good reason, as it turns out.

    The plot of the piece concerns a handsome Count who is so determined to hook up with a beautiful Countess (not his wife) that he comes up with all sorts of schemes to be near her, first assuming the identity of a hermit and, when that doesn't work, that of a nun. Many comic operas have become hugely popular with no more amusing a conceit than this, but Ory is an also-ran because most of its music is only fair-to-middling in quality.

    Of the three most famous composers of the bel canto school -- the other two were Donizetti and Bellini -- Rossini appears to have been the least gifted. Without a doubt, he could write brilliantly when inspiration struck, but many of his works contain pages and pages of what might be called note spinning, and he had a tiresome habit of using nearly identical climaxes and cadences to end all of his arias, duets, ensembles, etc. Also, the man was shameless in terms of recycling material from one opera to another. For example, a program note for the Met production of Ory mentions without a hint of disapproval that Rossini incorporated six (!!) numbers from Il Viaggio a Rheims -- written to celebrate the coronation of Charles X of France at Rheims Cathedral -- into the later work.

    The Met deserves credit for giving the piece a more than worthy production. Director Bartlett Sher, working in collaboration with Michael Yeargan (sets), Catherine Zuber (costumes), and Brian MacDevitt (lighting), has come up with a pointedly meta-theatrical presentation, complete with a stage within the stage. This is a good idea as far as it goes, but it doesn't make the opera any funnier or more compelling. One of Ory's major flaws is that there's really no progression in the narrative: Act II is just a variation on Act I, with the Count trying different means to attain the same desired end.

    Some of the Met's finest singers have been lavished upon this piece of fluff. Tenor Juan Diego Flórez and soprano Diana Damrau, who triumphed in Sher's production of Rossini's Il barbiere di Siviglia for the company in 2006, are reunited here as the Count and Countess. Both sing with all of the beauty, facility, and élan one expects from them, and their onstage chemistry helps keep the opera interesting. Mezzo Joyce DiDonato is charming in the trouser role of Isolier, the Count's page, who is also in love with the Countess. (Female-to-male drag!) Michele Pertusi offers a gem of a characterization as Ory's tutor, and Stéphane Degout and Susanna Resmak -- two singers previously unknown to me -- are perfect as Rambaud and Ragonde, respectively. Maurizo Benini conducts the score in such a way as to maximize its assets, but it seems clear that Ory was staged primarily as a vehicle for Florez, and I'd be surprised if it's ever revived without him in the title role.

    One final comment: There's nothing wrong in the Met presenting an obscure, second- or third-rate opera as an interesting historical artifact and/or as a showcase for a star singer, but the company does itself no favors in pegging such a work is something greater. In the program note referenced above, Paul Thomason contends with extreme hyperbole that "every page [of Le Comte Ory] is a miracle" and that "Rossini never wrote anything wittier, more sophisticated, or more delightful." This makes it sound as if he's never heard Il barbiere di Siviglia, La cenerentola, or for that matter the William Tell overture, three masterpieces in the canon of a composer who was only occasionally touched by the hand of true artistic genius.

    Published on Thursday, March 31, 2011

    Michael Portantiere has more than 30 years' experience as an editor and writer for TheaterMania.com, InTHEATER magazine, and BACK STAGE. He has interviewed theater notables for NPR.org, PLAYBILL, STAGEBILL, and OPERA NEWS, and has written notes for several cast albums. Michael is co-author of FORBIDDEN BROADWAY: BEHIND THE MYLAR CURTAIN, published in 2008 by Hal Leonard/Applause. Additionally, he is a professional photographer whose pictures have been published by THE NEW YORK TIMES, the DAILY NEWS, and several major websites. (Visit www.followspotphoto.com for more information.) He can be reached at [email protected]

    Why are you looking all the way down here?
    For more articles by Michael Portantiere, click the links below!

    Previous: Tragedy Tomorrow, Musicals Tonight!

    Next: What's Opera, Stephen?

    Or go to the Archives

[Broadway Ad Network]

[Broadway Ad Network]