|About this Recording
2.110388 - ROSSINI, G.: Comte Ory (Le) [Opera] (Malmö Opera, 2015) (NTSC)
Gioachino Rossini (1792–1868)
Comic opera in two acts (1828)
Count Ory - Leonardo Ferrando Tenor
MALMÖ OPERA CHORUS
MALMÖ OPERA ORCHESTRA
Stage Director LINDA MALLIK
Filmed on 4 and 5 January 2015 at Malmö Opera, Sweden
Rossini’s Le Comte Ory (‘Count Ory’) from 1828 is a French comic opera by an Italian composer written for the Paris Opéra, the national stage for tragic opera and later grand opéra. This is not an opera buffa translated into French—it is not based on stereotypes from commedia dell’arte and it has no fast-sung secco recitativo. Nor is Le Comte Ory an opéra-comique—for then the plot would be mainly carried by spoken dialogue between the musical numbers. Rossini created something completely new—a thoroughly composed opera comedy for artistes who were well known to the audience from tragic roles in the French and Italian repertoire.
It all begins with the dreadful Count Ory—‘l’horrible comte Ory’—the leading character in a medieval ballad that suddenly became popular in pre-revolutionary Paris. Elsewhere the Romantic era had begun with its worship of everything medieval—castles, monasteries, forests, mystery. For Frenchmen it was a piquant detail that the dreadful count with his thirteen knights entered a convent where the nuns, nine months later, gave birth to fourteen new cavaliers!
In 1816 Eugène Scribe, a writer of plays and operas with at least one finger in most successful stage productions of French origin for half of the 19th century, made Ory the horrible libertine into the leading character in a vaudeville, a one-act play that borrowed popular tunes. But this was now a time of stricter morality, and it was no longer fitting to impregnate an entire convent on the stage. It had to be a castle instead, inhabited by the grass widows of Crusaders. One of the ladies in the castle of chastity sings a variant of the ballad of Ory, and soon he is ready to jump over the moat with his henchmen. The nun’s wimple gets in on the act too, as a burlesque disguise for randy knights.
In 1824 Gioachino Rossini, the most frequently performed opera composer, came to Paris. He was 32 years old, but already felt middle-aged after having written 36 operas in different genres, chiefly with Naples as a base, enjoying many successes all over the opera-playing world. He had been summoned to the French capital to breathe life into Paris’s third opera house, the Théâtre- Italien, which mostly had Italian singers performing Italian opera in Italian, and critics thought that the management played too little Rossini for the good of the theatre! (The other two opera houses in Paris, the Théâtre de l’Opéra and the Opéra-Comique, were obliged by law to play everything—whether domestic or foreign—in French.) Rossini would soon be given two more commissions: As Compositeur du Roi, to deliver one new work each season for one of the city’s three official opera houses—an assignment that the composer, who had recently been so extremely productive, managed by a narrow margin. And as Inspecteur général du chant, to teach the French to sing, that is to say, to ensure that leading French opera artistes could combine French dramatic declamation with modern Italian bel canto. Le Cri français—‘the French cry’—had its roots in classical French tragedy but was frequently used in the sung tragedies by Gluck, Cherubini, and others, which were the high points of the French opera repertoire. Now singers in every professional category had to combine that with virtuoso coloratura after a crash course under Maestro Rossini.
To mark the coronation in 1825 of King Charles X of France, who would lose his crown in the July Revolution of 1830, the court composer delivered some very beautiful and unusual music in one of the strangest operas ever written. Il viaggio a Reims (‘The Journey to Reims’) has no plot—a number of distinguished guests from all corners of Europe, with national-sounding tones to go with their bizarre characters, are brought together at a comfortable inn but miss the coronation, having only got half-way because of a lack of horses! One of the performers was the Maria Callas of the day, Giuditta Pasta, in a possibly unconscious self-parody, a caricature of a romantic lady who improvises to a lyre. Il viaggio a Reims was performed on four evenings at the Théâtre-Italien and was then forgotten, never staged again until the 1970s. What opera house could have on its repertoire an occasional piece with eighteen roles, twelve of them written for the greatest virtuosi of the time? But when the opera was rediscovered in 1984 for the Rossini Opera Festival in Pesaro, its deconstruction of the opera form was well suited to the postmodernist current of the time.
As numbers two and three of the five operas that he undertook to deliver to Paris, Rossini presented revised versions of two Neapolitan successes, Italian opera seria in bel canto style, transformed into French grand opéra with large choruses and ballets. La Siège de Corinthe (1826) was based on Maometto II (1820), an improbable story about love between a Turkish sultan (coloratura bass) and a Greek governor’s daughter (coloratura soprano), who is in turn loved by a young Byzantine officer who in Naples had been played by a coloratura alto in trousers but in Paris became the tenor Adolphe Nourrit. After appropriate vocal training under Rossini, Nourrit would create both Count Ory’s extremely high part and Arnold in William Tell with rows of high Cs and outbreaks of early ‘heroic tenoritis’. Nourrit would play the leading roles in the first ‘grand operas’ by Auber and Meyerbeer and Eleazar in Halévy’s La Juive (‘The Jewess’), where he wrote the words to his own final aria, as he composed the libretto for the classical ballet La Sylphide in 1832.
In 1827 the Italian Mosè in Egitto (‘Moses in Egypt’) from 1818 became a French Moïse et Pharaon, ou Le Passage de la Mer Rouge which gave the bass Nicholas-Prosper Levasseur even more coloratura in his beard. He always sought to outdo his master—it was not enough that Rossini gave him more intricate passages than in the Italian versions, with which his favourite bass had excelled at the Théâtre-Italien. Levasseur was famous for adding even more difficult roulades, whether he was playing an Old Testament prophet, a Turkish sultan, or Ory’s old tutor.
In 1828 Rossini set about partly deconstructing Il viaggio a Reims, whose music was now unplayed, and partly created something new in Le Comte Ory, a unique comic opera for the great Paris Opéra, otherwise the home of tragic heroes. Scribe, the king of dramaturgy, let his risqué vaudeville blossom into the larger musical forms developed by Rossini in his serious Italian operas. Ory is simultaneously a work in the worthy spirit of the 18th-century Enlightenment, a tribute to Mozart, and a mockery of the now fashionable Romantic fascination with the Middle Ages, castles, troubadours, Crusades, knights, and ecstatic nuns.
In 1829 came the first completely new French opera composed by Rossini, and one of his most lasting successes, Guillaume Tell (‘William Tell’), based on Schiller’s drama about the medieval fight for freedom in Switzerland. The premiere is said to have taken six hours. The dismayed audience found it boring because they had expected the usual witty Rossini. Critics immediately recognized Guillaume Tell as something great and new, a masterpiece. His rival Donizetti is reported to have said that the first and third act were written by Rossini and the second by God. After just a few evenings, however, the opera had to be cut to a more manageable format, from four to three acts. To portray the mountains and lakes of Switzerland, Classicism had to give way and Rossini came out as a Romantic in a drama about freedom, pulsating with empathy for the revolutions that otherwise frightened him.
Le Comte Ory has never (to date) been staged at the Royal Opera in Stockholm, even though the theatre, from the premiere of Il Turco in Italia (‘The Turk in Italy’) in 1824, was for decades a Northern European centre for comic and serious bel canto opera by Rossini and others. During the 1840s it had ‘the Swedish nightingale’ Jenny Lind as its uncrowned queen. At the same time, Sweden enthusiastically embraced French grand opéra. But Le Comte Ory was probably too risqué at a time when people wanted to make the theatre edifying and to improve the moral reputation of its practitioners. Jenny Lind would no doubt have been a brilliant Adèle. But the soprano, who would soon be world-famous, was religious, demure, and worked to raise the moral status of female stage performers. For such a person, a terzetto sung horizontally in mock darkness would be going too far. ‘A model for American woman’—yes, Lind was proclaimed to be that in the US!—would not want to be found dead in a bed cuddled up with a tenor dressed as a nun and a mezzo-soprano in trousers. A production in Gothenburg as late as 1967 was the first in Scandinavia, possibly inspired by the successful revival of the work in the 1950s at the festival in Glyndebourne. This witty masterpiece certainly brightened the autumn/winter season at Malmö Opera in 2014.
Stefan Johansson Head of Dramaturgy, Malmö Opera
The action takes place at the Formoutiers castle in the Middle Ages
The young Count Ory has run away from his tutor together with his friend Raimbaud. In love with the Countess Adèle and in order to gain access to the castle, Ory disguises himself as a holy hermit. The Countess Adèle and her companion Ragonde have taken vows not to consort with men while their husbands are away to fight in the Crusades. The holy hermit gives blessings to the whole village, especially the young women. Ory’s page Isolier and the tutor arrive, looking for Ory. Isolier is also in love with Adèle and tells the hermit (Ory in disguise) about his plan to sneak in to her dressed as a nun. Ory desides to use the same method. Adèle consults the hermit about her melancholy. His advice is she should fall in love. Adèle has Isolier in mind but is warned by the hermit: Isolier is in Count Ory’s service. As Ory is trying to accompany Adèle into the castle he is found out and unmasked by his tutor. News arrives that Adèle’s husband and the other Crusaders are on their way home.
During a storm a group of nuns, claiming to be chased by Count Ory, seek refuge in the castle. They are welcomed by Adèle. The nuns (Ory and his men) are treated with milk and bread but Raimbaud soon finds the winecellar. Ory’s father, the Prince, has sent Isolier to the castle with the word the Crusaders are due at midnight. When Isolier hears about the nuns he immediately understands who they really are and reveals their scam to the women. Adèle brings Isolier to her bed chamber. Count Ory is lying there in the darkness waiting for Adèle. But it is Isolier who recieves the kisses, passing them on to Adèle. They are interrupted by trumpet fanfares. Isolier reveals his identity and threatens to tell Ory’s father about the son’s escapades. Ory gives up and makes his escape. All the women and the nuns wake up to meet the returning Crusaders.
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