Friday, April 22, 2011

The dull seducer

Le Comte Ory - Metropolitan Opera, 3/24/2011 & 4/21/2011
Florez, Damrau, DiDonato, Resmark, Degout, Pertusi / Benini

Never has so much excellent singing been so intolerably boring as in this just-concluded Met premiere run of Rossini's Comte Ory. At fault: a concerted and largely successful effort to erase any trace of drama from the already-problematic opera -- and to replace it with sitcom-level posturing. Remember this show when Gelb next trots out his mantra about the dramatic.

What's worst is that the prime culprits have shown themselves capable of much better. Director Bart Sher followed his needlessly busy Barber with a much better second Met show: the memorably dark Tales of Hoffmann. This Rossini, however, brought him back to the rote production language of that forgettable Barber -- mute servant role and all -- this time wrapped in a cute but pointless meta-production conceit of seeing the show as if in a smaller old-style theater with hand-done effects, prompting from the sides, etc. Characters' entrances and exits are well handled, but there's no actual character to any of them. With costumer Catherine Zuber also reprising designs from that Barber, the only hint that Sher et al. did something as full of sense as Hoffmann is in the heroine's pink/violet-haired attendants (showing a lot less flesh here than there, even with the stocking display to begin Act 2)... Sher seems to have had one idea here besides the big conceit, and it's a poor one -- to throw away the actual musical and dramatic climax of the show on a stupid extended threesome joke.

The actual written ending of the piece has, in its mistaken-identity aspect (Isolier takes Adele's place as Ory attempts to seduce her) and play on the pants-role part of its mezzo lead Isolier, a generous serving of farce. But it is funny for schadenfreude at Ory's comeuppance, as his cleverness overextends himself to make him ridiculous rather than formidable -- the exploiter of disguise is himself taken in by disguise. It is entirely in accord with the rest of his failure here that Juan Diego Florez plays a version of the climax that erases its point. For Florez, as ever, is oh-so-conservative about his stage persona, which remains as goofily teen-heartthrob as ever. About the only good part of that Sonnambula disaster was the prospect of the Peruvian tenor continuing to embrace a more adult and heartfelt sensibility, but his Ory showed serious regression. He at least improved noticably by the run's end, but even yesterday it seemed impossibly difficult for Florez to embrace the fact that he's the bad guy, with each half-moment of full conniving quickly taken back with a long span of "come on, how cute am I doing this?" clowning. The show could and should have been a chance to really subvert the Florez persona and the audience's reaction to it -- and he may even have said as much in early interviews -- but he simply can't resist pandering to this audience reaction for any extended period.

Yes, Florez sang brilliantly, but because he evaded the villain role nothing was at stake and he was boring. Diana Damrau got, among other things, the fullest-scale Rossini solo showpiece and did well with it. As well as Joyce DiDonato sang in ensembles, she was allowed -- disappointingly -- no solos of note. Stephane Degout and Michele Pertusi were, however, and sang well in them.

For all its press and box-office success (and don't get me wrong, there's much to be said for any show that sells most of its tickets these days), this run is surely the artistic low point of the Peter Gelb era. Gelb's previous failures at least tried new things along his proclaimed line. But here, less than five years from his ascension to sole General Manager on the effective spin of renewing the "drama" element in Met productions, we find Gelb selling the exact sort of dramatically empty, idea-free, singer-exploitation-vehicle sitcom with which Joe Volpe closed his reign. Yuck.


  1. You know it is a comedy, don't you?

  2. Being funny would have helped.

  3. This is interesting and thoughtful. Maybe Rossini didn't really like the French. I still puzzle over why he would give up composing.

    Something is very wrong with it, and perhaps it's exactly as you say. Gert sees Ory as a kind of serial rapist, not really redeemable at all.

  4. One has to like Sher's direction, and I'm not a fan, nor am I impressed with the direction Mr.Gelb has taken the Met. That being said, too much drama is just that, drama, and there is nothing wrong with a little "lightness" in the line-up. Not everyone is prepared to sit through a long, dark evening of doom and gloom, and the houses need to sell tickets in order to keep the other productions coming.
    I don't think that anyone is claiming that "Comte" is a great work; it's certainly not, in fact,in places, it's downright boring. I don't feel that it's right to blame JDF for the direction that he was given, which made him seem alternately stupid and more stupid(not to mention being dresses like a refugee from "Jesus Christ Superstar" and then in his outfit from "Il Barbieri"!), Rossini didn't write an aria for Isolier, so that's that.
    This opera is a light piece of fluff, nothing more (and not very good fluff, at that) but the cast did the best they could with what they were given. The blame for the production lies in not using the more complete version that had been done in Zurich earlier this year, and in sophomoric direction.

  5. I am a little surprised by what I feel is unexplained negativity in this review.

    The previous 2-word review "don't bother" could at least be attributed to a difference in taste.

    There seems to be more going on here which I don't understand.

    Afew observations.

    1. Ory is probably too intimate an opera to work well at the Met, and that has perhaps led to some of Sher's decisions.

    2. Ory is NOT second rate Rossini. Berlioz ( who was not a Rossini fan) was quite taken with the final trio, and it represents a change in the direcof music at the time. Rossini didn't quit composing because he was "out of ideas" btw.

    3. Comedy is difficult, ( it is not required to be "funny"). That said, this opera has the challenge of bringing together Italian comedy and French comedy ( which are two very different things) in a way that comes across to an audience not necessarily particularly versed in either. The two female leads each commented that the last act is full of "people saying one thing and meaning another". Florez walked the tight-rope of not-Giovanni-but-skirt chaser, and that seems to be what the music implies.

    4. The staging of the trio developed during the run. A viewing of the rehersal clip posted by the Met and comparing it with the HD ( I saw it in the house several times) shows this. None of the productions available for view have good solutions for the staging. Some are awful, some are silly, and Sher's decision to let the audience see what was going on while preserving the fiction that the singers could not, seemed to allow for some play between the singers and the audience. The latter seems to be unforgivable by some.

    There is much to admire in this opera, and repeated viewings gave the opportunity to see the finer details which may have been missed the first time around.
    Cassandra R


Absolutely no axe-grinding, please.