Le Comte Ory is a whacky comedy, based on crass, kind of dated jokes (just about 200 years), which, thanks to the miraculous music written by Rossini, can still be funny and interesting today. Last Saturday in Zurich we had all the necessary elements: a not completely disastrous production (which is the best you can hope for, these days), a wonderful orchestra, an enthusiastic conductor and great singers. I had a lot of fun.
The plot is set in the early Middle Ages, in a French village full of noble ladies waiting for the return of their husbands and brothers from the Crusades, and a young aristocratic rascal (the count Ory, of course) who schemes and plots and disguises himself in the most extravagant ways, in order to seduce the ladies, with particular attention to the Countess Adèle. For the usual mysterious reasons,the action is moved forward 700 years, and set during the French-Algerian war, in a garrison town. It doesn’t make that much of a difference: the story is so crazy that the time-laps doesn’t affect it much, the main difference are the clothes (maybe this is the reason for modern directors move the action to modern times? we’ll never know). The embarrassing situations are treated with all the elegance that the plot allows, without exaggerations. Some things are truly fun: at the beginning of the second act the ladies are together in Adèle’s “castle”, drinking tea, in their dressing gowns and rollers on their heads, and sings about how nice and calm it is in their refuge, safe from any evil-doers. The melody is repeated two or three times, and at each repetition it becomes more and more clear that they are bored to death. Very funny. THE main scene of the opera, the one with the “threesome” in the bed, was solved in a very traditional way, without brilliant inventions, but also without vulgar tricks. Isolier dresses himself up with the Countess’ dressing gown and turban, and the count Ory tries to seduce him in the bed, while Adèle is lying on the floor, covered by a blanket, peeking out when she needs to sing.
Globally, I would say that the direction was all right.
Countess Adèle was Cecilia Bartoli! Our beloved Cecilia takes up again the role she debuted in 2011, and she shines in it! The part is a bit high for her, or rather, I prefer #LaBartoli in classical Rossini mezzo roles. But she did a great job; no super-high notes, of course, but her coloratura and her legato are simply perfect. Her warm low register adds depth to the ensembles, and she has a care and an attention to phrasing and interpretation which are borderline obsessive. In the second act duet with the tenor she repeats the same melody several times, and never sings it in the same way twice. She has an overwhelming personality (maybe too much? maybe this is one of the reasons her haters hate her?): when she’s on stage, it is impossible to look anywhere else. A real Diva. Once again I had an opportunity to verify how different is the Bartoli experience live and on record. Often, in recordings, she sings with an emphasis which results exaggerated and even a bit ridiculous at times. I’ve never experienced this kind of interpretation live, never. There are singers who simply don’t record well.
The count Ory was Edgardo Rocha, who I had already heard in Rossini’s Othello in Paris, in the role of Rodrigo, and I didn’t particularly love (I judged him a bit weak). This time he convinced me much more. The voice is always the same, it lacks squillo, no trumpets. But I heard a much more efficient projection, and overall his voice had much more presence. The high notes are wonderful, always easy, and the coloratura is great. He has a true comical talent, very funny. Yes, I admit it, I was thinking of Florez for the whole opera. It’s really hard to listen to Rossini without hearing JDF in your head and miss him. On his side, Rocha has much sexier legs 🙂
As the Countess Adèle was a mezzo, of course the page Isolier was a coloratura soprano! (The count Bizarro-Ory). Rebeca Olvera did a great job. I like her voice a lot, because she has very good high notes and wonderful quick coloratura, but the voice has a low center, it has a central depth really unusual in a light soprano. She’s a very petite woman, which doesn’t help her, in a pants role, but she really worked on her man-act (and, luckily, #LaBartoli is not that tall herself); the result was very good and very funny. She and Bartoli have very good chemistry, both from a vocal and from an acting point of view: they often work together. (Olvera was Adalgisa in Norma in Salzburg).
Among the other singers, an extremely good Ragonde by Liliana Nikiteanu, who I had already heard in Haendel in Salzburg and hadn’t liked at all: her intonation was all over the place. Instead in this case I liked her a lot, very confident in the concertati, a very beautiful voice, no intonation problems. The other ones a bit less satisfying, maybe. Rimbaud was Oliver Widmer, #LaBartoli’s husband; listening to him is the tax you have to pay in order to listen to her, or so it seems. He’s not bad, mind you, but he’s not on the same level. He forces the sound out, in my opinion he doesn’t have a good technique, and I don’t understand why she doesn’t teach him. (Well, maybe she does, god only knows how he was singing before meeting her.)
The Count Ory’s tutor was Roberto Lorenzi, bass, who did his job, but a bit in an anonymous way. The voice is smooth, the low notes are a bit weak… total lack of charisma.
The Orchestra La Scintilla, as usual, was amazing. Precision, verve, details, everything. The conductor, Jean-Christophe Spinosi, already heard conducting his own Ensemble Matheus, in Xerxes, in Stockholm, was truly great. He understands Rossini, he really does, and he managed to bring out the elegance and a certain rigor, while on stage there was madness.
Rossini remains one of the great joys of my life, with or without Florez, luckily!