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David R. Kirk
Fanfare, November 2007

"Imminently likeable. Be sure to add this Ory to your library. The performance is exuberant, and the Naxos sound and balances are excellent. If you never heard it, make it a Rossini-must!"

"The tale that Rossini reused the music from Il Viaggio a Reims to create the opera Le Comte Ory is true, but not to the extent that many believe. True, six of Viaggo's nine numbers have found their way into Ory, although with some rescoring, but they comprise only half of Ory's music. Fortunately, the 'Gran Pezzo Concertate a 14 Voci' was used, although in Ory it is reduced to seven soloists plus chorus. The effect is undiminished. If you never heard it, make it a Rossini-must!

Le Comte Ory lacks and overture, which may be a reason the work does not have a better name recognition in the Rossini canon. People who may have never seen or heard many of Rossini's operas most likely know of the works by title from the popularity of their overetures. Ory should be better known. It is a good opera: the story, with its disguises and intrigues is well written and fun, and Rossini's music is on par with the best of his better-known scores. One melodious, engaging number after another, considerable ensemble work and not much recitative make Ory an opera beginning to be popular.

The story has some historical basis. The legend of Count Ory, a womanizer along the lines of Don Juan, dates back to the Crusades. In the late 18th century, Pierre-Antoine de la Place collected the Ory tales and popularized the story of the Count and his men invading a convent and impregnating the nuns. The story was dramatized by Eugène Scribe and Charles-Gaspard De-lestre-Poirson as a one-act playlet presented at the Théâtre Vaudeville in 1816. In this work, the Crusaders return just in the nick of time to prevent Ory and his men from bedding the nuns. For an opera libretto, Scribe and De-lestre-Poirson have Ory disguising himself, first as a hermit and then as a nun, as he attemps to enter Countess Adèle's Castle and ultimately enterAdèle herself. It is reminiscent of Almaviva's attempts to see Rosina, although Rosina is complicit in the deceptions and welcomes Almaviva's attentions, which significantly sets her apart from Adèle. Another differnece is Amaviva's success, whereas Ory's every attempt is thwarted.

There have been relatively few recordings of Le Comte Ory. EMI had a mono offering in the early 1950s that was briefly available on CD. Stereo offerings (all DDD) include a studio recording by John Eliot Gardiner on Philips (1989), a live recording featuring Juan Diego Flórez conducted by Jesús Lopez-Cóbos (DG, 2004), and now this Naxos from the 2002 Rossini in Wildbad Festival. Naxos has issued several of the Rossini in Wildbad productions. With the exception of La cenerentola, the offerings have seen some of Rossini's lesser known and less frequently recorded operas. If you have been collecting them, be sure to add this Ory to your library. I enjoyed it every bit as much as the Philips and DG recordings.

In the role of Ory, Flórez brings the most star-power, but John Aler (Philips) and Huw Rhys-Evans (Naxos) both deliver solid performances. I found the sound of the Naxos to be clearer and more focused than the DG, especially during the crescendos and fortes, although more stage noise is audible during the Wildbad performances - not enough to be distracting. The studio performance on Philips lacks some of the spontaneity of this Naxos.

I like all three of the stereo sets (I have not heard the EMI mono). Each has its strengths and any weaknesses are neglegible and subject to personal preferences. If I had to pick only one (a very hard choice), I found this Naxos imminently likeable. The performance is exuberant, the cast sounds like they are having a great time with Ory, and the Naxos sound and balances are excellent."

Göran Forsling
MusicWeb International, November 2007

This opera is Rossini’s only comic opera in French and also the most flagrant example of self-borrowing, which however is understandable. He wrote Il viaggio a Reims in 1825 for the coronation of Charles X, but since the plot was so explicitly associated with the event, Rossini withdrew the score and then he recycled about 50% of the music for Le Comte Ory, which is a wholly different story. Il viaggio a Reims lay forgotten for more than 150 years and was finally revived in the 1980s, when it became a great success. I managed to see it in Helsinki a few years ago directed by Dario Fo, who was also responsible for the sets and the costumes. It was a colourful and entertaining performance but the plot was so thin that in the second act it felt a bit boring. This is an adjective that cannot be applied to Le Comte Ory, especially so in this sensitive and spirited reading from the “Rossini in Wildbad” festival. It was recorded live and one can hear clearly that there are lots of things going on. Sometimes, especially in the second act, there is so much bumping and stamping that the music comes out second best. Theatrical atmosphere is a good thing but I can accept it more readily when seeing with my own eyes, whether in the theatre or on DVD, what is going on. Here one can only guess and that is a bit frustrating.

By and large this is the only frustrating thing about this recording since it gives practically unalloyed pleasure in all other respects. Brad Cohen is an experienced Rossinian and he conducts a fizzing performance, brisk but not over-energetic. He also gives the singers freedom to expand in the more lyrical passages. The Czech choir and orchestra are excellent and the recording is everything one could wish for from a live occasion; I just wish some wizard could wash away the stage noise, but that’s another story.

The cast is splendid and are clearly inside their roles. Welsh tenor Huw Rhys-Evans in the title role has a fine voice with easy top, a fine pianissimo and in the second act duo with the Countess he also exposes a good trill. He sings with ardour but tends to push his voice beyond what is natural for him at which point the tone hardens. Linda Gerrard’s Countess is even better and executes her breakneck coloratura with splendour. She grows through the performance and is magnificent in the long trio just before the finale. Luisa Islam-Ali-Zade, who already has a Naxos Rossini to her credit, is in the same league and her duet with the Count’s Tutor in act 1 is great singing. The other mezzo-soprano, Gloria Montanari, is more vibrant and thick-voiced but contributes worthily. Of the two deep-voiced men the young Luca Salsi has a fine baritone and is a powerful singer. Polish-born Wojtek Gierlach is quite simply equipped with one of the fruitiest true bass voices to be heard in this repertoire and he relishes the Tutor’s aria – one of the numbers that was brought over from Il viaggio a Reims.

At the usual Naxos give-away price this is a highly recommendable version of one of Rossini’s most spirited comedies. One has to make do without a printed libretto although it can be downloaded from the Naxos website. Keith Anderson’s synopsis is a valuable substitute.

Robert J Farr
MusicWeb International, July 2007

After the premiere of Semiramide in Venice on 3 February 1823 Rossini and his wife travelled to London via Paris. They stayed in London for six months. There the composer presented eight of his operas at the King’s Theatre, Haymarket, and also met and sang duets with the King. The stay in London was reputed to have brought Rossini many tens of thousand of pounds. On his return to Paris, Rossini was offered the post of Musical Director of the Théâtre Italien. His contract provided an excellent income and a guaranteed pension. It also demanded new operas from him in French. Before embarking on any such opera he had the unavoidable duty of a work to celebrate the coronation of Charles X in Reims Cathedral in June 1825. Called Il viaggio a Reims (A Journey to Reims) it was composed to an Italian libretto and presented at the Théatre Italien on 19 June. It was hugely successful in three sold-out performances after which Rossini withdrew it considering it purely a pièce d’occasion.

Rossini’s first compositions to French texts for The Opéra were revisions of earlier works with new libretti, settings and additional music. The first, Le Siège de Corinth was premiered in October 1826 and was a resounding success. Moïse et Pharon, a revision of the Italian Mosè in Egitto followed in March 1827 to even greater acclaim. During the composition of Moïse et Pharon, Rossini agreed to write Guillaume Tell. Before doing so he wrote Le Comte Ory, making use of five of the nine numbers from Il viaggio a Reims. Le Comte Ory is not a comic opera in the Italian tradition, where secco recitative was to last another decade or so, but more in the French manner of opéra-comique. There are no buffoon characters and no buffa type patter arias. The work is one of charm and wit in the best Gallic tradition and a link towards Offenbach. The plot concerns the Countess Adele and her ladies who swear chastity and retreat into the countess’s castle when their men go off to the crusades. Comte Ory, a young licentious and libidinous aristocrat is determined to gain entrance to the castle in pursuit of carnal activity. He first does so as a travelling hermit seeking shelter and charity. When this fails he returns disguised as the Mother Superior of a group of nuns - really his own men in disguise - who also fancy their chances with the pent-up ladies. His young page Isolier, a trousers role, who is in love with the countess himself thwarts Ory’s plans. The timely return of the crusaders does likewise for the intentions of Ory’s fellow ‘nuns’. Love remains ever pure and chastity unsullied!

The annual Bad Wildbad Festival, held in the small Black Forest spa where Rossini stopped over, has become known as the Pesaro of the North. It not only makes a speciality of Rossini’s works but also presents those often long forgotten Italian Operas by German composers of similar vintage. Naxos engineers have been present at the Festival for a number of years and the consequences have filled a number of important gaps Rossini catalogue. From the 2001 Festival comes a world premiere recording of L'equivoco stravagante and also La pietra del paragone. The year 2002 juxtaposed Rossini’s Maometto II, in the 1820 Naples edition, alongside Peter Von Winter’s Maometo, which had lain unperformed for 150 years. The two works are derived from totally different literary sources and the plot and characters are in no way related. This was issued on the Marco Polo label. From 2003 came a recording of Torvaldo e Dorliska that filled an important gap in the catalogue but was quickly usurped by a Dynamic release with a superior cast from Pesaro itself. In 2004 Bad Wildbad presented Rossini’s rare Ciro in Babilonia, his Lenten offering of 1811 for Ferrara. Among this formidable list of recordings, I had missed the fact that Naxos had not until now issued a recording of Le Comte Ory from the 2002 Festival. Maybe with a strong rival in the form of John Eliot Gardiner’s recording in the Philips Classic Opera series it was not considered as urgent in the schedule.

Whatever the background, the arrival of this recording of Rossini’s French comedy is welcome. Brad Cohen whose conducting I admired in the Maometto keeps the music moving and full of verve. Of the singers Linda Gerard as the countess particularly impressed me. She had been off my radar since leaving Manchester’s Royal Northern College in the early 1990s since when she has built a career in Europe including this performance at Bad Wildbad. She has a warm centre to her voice allied to a flexible and secure coloratura technique (CD 1 tr. 19 and CD 2 trs. 3-5) to give a very appealing and satisfying characterisation. Her fellow coloratura, Luisa Islam-Ali-Zade who has appeared in several Bad Wildbad productions is equally impressive as Isolier although I would have liked a little more distinction in timbre between her and Linda Gerrard (CD 2 tr. 11). At the other end of the mezzo extreme Gloria Montanari’s Ragonde is a little thick-toned. As the libidinous Count, Huw Rhys-Evans sometimes strives a little too hard with a coarsening of his tone. He is good in this repertoire, but lacks the mellifluous head voice necessary to make him outstanding. Nonetheless his singing is never less then well phrased and characterised 9CD 1 tr. 3 and CD 2 trs. 3 and 11). As Raimbad, the count’s partner in would be seduction, Luca Salsi sings strongly and evenly whilst Wojtek Gierlach as his tutor is steady and sonorous in the air Veiller sans cesse (CD 1 tr. 5).

The recording is well balanced and there are no obtrusive stage noises. The audience show their warm appreciation after some ensembles and individual arias, but they do so judiciously and without disturbing Brad Cohen’s fluid interpretation. The leaflet has a full track-listing with roles and timings indicated, an informative introductory essay, artist profiles and a track-related synopsis, all in English. There is an alternative essay in German as well as a translation of the track-related synopsis in that language.

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