Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Count Ory’s funny and wicked adventures create summer splash at Seattle Opera

Rodion Pogossov (Raimbaud), Lawrence Brownlee (Count Ory) and members of the Seattle Opera Chorus | Photo by Philip Newton
Seattle Opera’s “The Wicked Adventures of Count Ory” delivered Rossini’s comic opera with a buoyantly whimsical production on Saturday, August 6th at McCaw Hall. Australian designer Dan Potra put a refreshing spin on the medieval story by placing it in the 1970s or 80s with the characters running around a fantastically vivid landscape in hippy-dippy costumes. That helped the opening night audience to roll with laughter as the cross-dressing Count Ory was foiled in his attempts to get into bed with the beautiful Countess Adéle.

Sarah Coburn (Countess Adèle) | Photo by Philip Newton
“The Wicked Adventures of Count Ory” is a slyly updated title to the original “Le Comte Ory,” but it is an accurate one because Ory’s single objective is to bed the beautiful Countess of Formoutiers (Countess Adéle). Set in Middle Ages, the men of Formoutiers are gone on the Crusades, and the women have taken a vow of chastity. To gain entrance to the castle and woo the Countess, Ory disguises himself as a religious hermit who specializes in the affairs of the heart. Just when Ory is on the verge of success, his page, Isolier, and his tutor reveal his true identity. Ory resolves to try again, and in the second half of the opera, he and his men take on the garb of nuns who are in need of shelter because of a violent storm. Ory’s plans go awry when his men become drunk after discovering the wine cellar. Under the cover of darkness, Ory makes his way to Adéle’s bedroom, but she has hides behind Isolier and Ory unwittingly mistakes his page for the Countess. All goes for naught as trumpets announce the return of the Crusaders, and Ory and his men hastily vacate the castle tower. 
Lawrence Brownlee as Count Ory | Photo by Jacob Lucas

Part of the comic charm of the opera is the twist in gender roles. In the first act, Adéle feels attracted to the page, Isolier, which is a pants role sung by a mezzo-soprano. Things get crazier in the second act when Ory dresses as a woman (Sister Colette) to pursue the Countess, but he mistakes Isolier for her.
Sarah Coburn (Countess Adèle) and Lawrence Brownlee (Count Ory) | Photo by Philip Newton
In Seattle’s production Ory’s hermit disguise looked like a reincarnation of the Bhagwan Shri Rajneesh, and the women of the village wore hippie outfits while fawning over him. In the second half, Ory and his men wore outlandish getups that were sort of a cross between Liberace and Paul Revere and the Raiders before changing into their nunnery clothing.
Patrick Carfizzi (The Tutor) and Hanna Hipp (Isolier) | Photo by Philip Newton
Set designs by Dan Potra worked better in the first half of the opera than the second. A bright florescent green carpet covered the stage, gracing a hillside and a tower in the distance. Cutout likenesses of Countess Adéle and Ragonde descended the tower caused chuckles. A tree with branches that resembled a hand and glowing berries at the finger tips was a fanciful creation. The second half of the opera revealed three stories of the tower, but the restrictive space of the second level severely restricted the movement of the women, which hampered the stage directions of Australian Lindy Hume. One of her best devices was to have the townspeople enter from the aisles on the main floor, and that duplicated in the second half by Count Ory’s men.

In the title role, Lawrence Brownlee hit all of the high notes and then some with breathtaking ease and elicited laughter as the lascivious yet slightly inept womanizer. Sarah Coburn sang brilliantly and generated barrels of laughter when she shook like a leaf while being enthralled by Ory’s Bhagwan-hermit. After intermission, Colburn deftly created a flummoxed Countess who had to repel the advances of Ory’s Sister Colette. Hanna Hipp’s animated Isolier was fun to watch and her singing was superb. Rodion Pogossov created a rousing Raimbaud, and Patrick Carfizzi’s Tutor had world-weariness to spare. Maria Zifchak gave a solid performance as the rightfully suspicious Lady Ragonde.
Rodion Pogossov (Raimbaud) with members of the Seattle Opera Chorus | Photo by Philip Newton
The music scampered along briskly under the direction of Giacomo Sagripanti. The men and women of the Seattle Opera Chorus sang lustily, and the men, in particular, had a terrific esprit de corps when belting out the drinking songs.
Members of the Seattle Opera Chorus | Photo by Philip Newton
Super titles created by Jonathan Dean appeared on clouds that drifted above the opening scene. An animated cartoon of Count Ory riding a sheep across the clouds added a witty edge and caused applause to break out from the audience. That was the first time, in attending hundreds of operas, that I have heard applause for super titles. Kudos to Dean.

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