I don’t know where to start. During the pre-performance lecture and during the performance itself, there were so many things I wanted to say. But now it’s the next day and I only have a couple of hours before I have to move on to the next thing, and I don’t know where to start.
Well, if I have to provide a TLDR for Count Ory, I guess I would just use this video, below the fold.
Seattle Opera’s dramaturg Jonathan Dean reminded us during the pre-performance lecture:
There’s nothing new under the sun.
I don’t know how opera ever got the reputation for being stuffy, because County Ory is a 126 minute (with an intermission) celebration of debauchery. The protagonist’s only ambition is to get laid as often and by as many (mostly) women as possible, and to drink as much wine as he can steal along the way. In fact, Count Ory is a fairly late addition (it debuted in Paris in 1828) in a bawdy timeline that stretches further back than Lysistrata, passes through Chaucer and Shakespeare, and continues on through Monty Python and David Bowie right up to the present day. There is nothing new under the sun, which is the reason that the story is in the telling.
Seattle Opera’s telling of Count Ory is a brand new production. (See what I did there?) Designed by an Australian duo new to Seattle Opera, and built in-house, the sets and costumes loop back on tradition in a way that reminds me of A Knight’s Tale, that nearly perfect 1990’s experiment that replaced historical accuracy with historical evocativeness. It too referenced Chaucer, but it was an idea before its time and nobody liked it except me. I think Count Ory’s impressionist take on history will be more well-loved.
In a Seussian landscape, dressed somewhere between a Rasta and a sadhu, we meet Raimbaud, the wicked Count’s sidekick. Even in comical disguise, barihunk Will Liverman is smoking hot, with a voice that makes me wonder how tenors cornered the love interest market. It was Liverman’s Seattle debut, and most of his lines are in the first few minutes of the opera, but I can’t imagine a world in which he doesn’t return to Seattle Opera soon and often.
We first see Count Ory in disguise as a holy man. He looks like a cross between a Ren-fair devotee and a Hindu god painted on the side of a bus. He is worshipped by pretty young things, medieval lasses by way of Coachella, who revel in his teachings of free love. The chaste Countess Adele, beautifully sung by Lauren Snouffer in her Seattle debut, first appears in a dress that would be quite at home on the gothicandamazing Instagram. (Or on me. I want that dress.) Ory’s tutor (Patrick Carfizzi) shows up in the most metal coat ever – then kind of breaks your heart with his bass-baritone woes.
I’ve been telling anyone who will listen about the awesome blend of high/low art in Junot Diaz’s Oscar Wao, but there’s nothing new under the sun. Rossini is most famous for opera buffa, which is just Italian for comedic opera and refers to easily accessible operas that appealed to a broader fanbase (so basically, Rossini was the Jack Black of nineteenth century proto-Italy). Plots were crass, language was crude, and the music was simple. Dean said Rossini only knew three chords, and his only trick was crescendo, so maybe saying Rossini was more Little Richard than Jack Black.
Certainly, like Little Richard, Rossini’s music is gripping, charming, emotive, beautiful, fun.
The librettist, Eugene Scribe, was one of the most important French theater writers of his century. For Count Ory, he fell back on classic tropes and recycled material, but the story is in the telling. The lengths some men will go to get laid will never stop being funny. Bent genders and mistaken identities will always get a laugh. Good wine should never go to waste.
I wish that everyone could see Count Ory. If I had a bigger blog, I would even try to set up a ticket giveaway to make sure at least one more person sees it. Not because of the look on Ory’s face when the Countess slips into bed next to him while he thinks he’s already making love to her – although that is funny. For that scene, which is almost as scandalous today as it was when it debuted in 1828, Rossini wrote the sweetest, most romantic music of the opera. But that music is not the reason I want everyone to see Count Ory, either. I wish everyone would see Count Ory because it so wonderfully combines exquisite beauty with bawdiness. Like the page Isolier squeezed between the Count and Countess under the fur bed cover, people are happiest in the space between the sacred and profane.
Besides, it’s a wickedly funny opera.