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.