Monte-Carlo 2020-21 Review: ‘Le Comte Ory’
Cecilia Bartoli Leads an Exuberant ‘Comte Ory’ in a Defiant Monte-CarloBy Robert Adelson & Jacqueline Letzter
What is most remarkable about this production of “Le Comte Ory” is that it even took place at all.
The Opéra de Monte-Carlo is one of the only opera houses in the world to continue to mount staged performances, not just in streaming but before a live audience. Doing so requires important changes and strict precautions: the start time of all performances was moved up to 2 p.m. to comply with the nationwide curfew in France, audience members have their temperature taken upon arrival, masks are required, and every other seat is left empty—a major sacrifice, given that the normal capacity of the Salle Garnier is scarcely more than 500 people.
Monaco’s commitment to the continued functioning of their opera house this season has thus far allowed for successful runs of Verdi’s “I due Foscari” featuring Plácido Domingo and Anna Pirozzi, and Massenet’s “Thaïs” with Ludovic Tézier and Marina Rebeka. The current production of “Le Comte Ory,” however, has become a symbol of the company’s determination in the face of the pandemic, as it had originally been programmed in March 2020, but was abruptly canceled upon the first lockdown.
The present production is a revival of the 2011 Zurich Opera staging by Patrice Caurier and Moshe Leiser that was subsequently recorded on DVD, and in which Bartoli also sang the role of Adèle. The action of the original libretto by Scribe and Delestre-Poirson has been transposed from the middle ages to the 1950s, with the Franco-Algerian War replacing the medieval crusades. Even the Belle Époque stage curtain in the Salle Garnier was replaced by a “vintage” design with orange and yellow flowers on a white background.
The guiding presence behind this production was Cecila Bartoli, but not only as the prima donna in the role of the Countess Adèle. Bartoli is also the founder and Artistic Director of the superb period-instrument orchestra Les Musiciens du Prince, which has accompanied her for numerous projects since 2016, including this season’s performances of “Le Comte Ory.” Most notably, Bartoli will be taking over from Jean-Louis Grinda as Director of the Opéra de Monte-Carlo in January 2023, so her appearances in her soon-to-be home theatre can be seen as harbingers of what she has in store for the company.
Bartoli was as astonishing as ever in the role of Adèle. Her coloratura singing is a kaleidoscopic array of colors, but the most extraordinary aspect of her rapid delivery is that it is held together by a seamless legato; if one were to slow down these florid passages to half speed the result would be a heartrendingly expressive cantabile aria. This was particularly noticeable in the “Ce téméraire” section in the Act two duo with Ory, one of the high points of the performance.
The burnished tone of her voice contrasted well in the ensembles, where she repeatedly distinguished herself by singing strikingly softer, rather than insistently louder, than the others around her. Bartoli excels in bringing out the moments where text and music collide, as in her duo with Ragonde (ably sung by the Romanian mezzo-soprano Liliana Nikiteanu) at the beginning of Act two where she emphasized the words “calme” and “tranquille” to show that she and her lonely dames d’honneur were anything but.
Top-notch Bel Canto
The lascivious Comte Ory was sung by Maxim Mironov, one of today’s leading Rossini tenors, and an engaging and athletic actor. He has plenty of competition in this role, from Juan Diego Flórez to Javier Camarena (who sang in the 2011 Zurich production with Bartoli). Mironov made a striking impression from his opening “Que les destins prospères,” with a flexible and agile phrasing and effortless high Cs.
His top range began to show signs of fatigue in the Act two drinking song “Buvons, buvons,” but only in his forte singing; his pianissimo smorzando cadence in the same number was a moment of beauty. Throughout the opera, Mironov used his light timbre to brilliant effect, although it sometimes failed to project over the orchestra, especially in some of his buffo patter arias.
The role of the page Isolier was splendidly sung by the Mexican soprano Rebeca Olvera. She is a lively actress; in her first duo with Ory, for example, she showed nice shifts between mistrust and feigned complicity. The final trio “A la faveur de cette nuit obscure” was masterfully sung by all three singers, bringing out the crass brutality of Ory’s seduction plot, rather than the humor of the gender-bending situation.
Mironov, Bartoli, and Olvera benefited from an excellent supporting cast. Nahuel Di Pierro stood out in the role of the Gouverneur, especially for his impeccable intonation in the often-thankless Act one aria “Veiller sans cesse.”
Pietro Spagnoli was an amusing Raimbaud, although his vocal performance was sometimes sacrificed to stage requirements. His opening “Jouvencelles, venez vite” was sung through a makeshift megaphone, and his acrobatics during his Act two aria “Dans ce lieu solitaire” sometimes left him breathlessly struggling to keep up with the tempo, although this admittedly added to the comic effect.
The orchestra Les Musiciens du Prince was conducted by one of Bartoli’s longtime collaborators, Jean-Christophe Spinosi. He coaxed some luscious string textures from his musicians, most notably in the introduction to Adèle’s aria “En proie à la tristesse.” Spinosi was highly attentive to details, often conducting rubato in the woodwinds note by note for greater precision. The natural horn flourishes he and his musicians took the liberty of adding to the score in the first act contributed to some of the more humorous moments in the action.
Hector Berlioz considered “Le Comte Ory” to be one of Rossini’s finest scores, arguing that the Act two trio alone contained enough great music to fill two or three operas. The Opéra de Monte-Carlo production certainly rose to the occasion, providing memorable moments to treasure during this troubling season.