There are essentially two approaches to the supreme expression of opera, both of them dealing with what would seem to be the impossible.
The first is taking a theme or subject so vast and unapproachable that it amounts to an effort that is best described as impossible. A few examples include: Richard Wagner's "Ring," which was based on the German epic poem "The Nibelungenlied"; Hector Berlioz' "Les Troyens," adapted from the poem of Virgil; any old Faust with Schumann, Busoni or even Gounod; and of course there is always Shakespeare. Many a composers dreams have foundered on the noble intention of putting to music King Lear, including Giusseppi Verdi, and like him they never got around to it.
The other pole of the impossible consists of the explication of a plot that reads like a synopsis of the Marx Brothers' "Duck Soup" or the Coen Brother's "The Big Lebowski." A few examples of this form include: Verdi's "Il Trovatore" or Gioachino Rossini’s "Le Comte Ory."
These comic masterpieces of opera and cinema (and the two forms have much in common) are spun out of thin air. They all belong to the world of the zany, the "screwball comedy," or the madcap. You can try to wrap your head around them all you like, or even worse, try to explain what they mean.
Good luck with finding meaning, I’ll stick to the basic story.
Who but Rossini would go back to the 13th century and take the crusades as a "comic situation"? Instead of religious strife, the plague, and the clash of civilization, we get a war of the sexes (fought to a standstill), drunkenness, disguises and false piety.
A reluctant crusader, the Comte Ory and his men see not a religious obligation but an erotic opportunity in their quest. They take their time getting started at war by beginning with a challenge at home. Who is to tend to all these recently abandoned women! Husbands, sons and lovers are gone.
Watch Countess Adéle's aria from Act 1: "Vous que l'on dit sensible"
The ever adventurous count takes as his object of desire La Comtesse Adele and all the women taking refuge in her castle. The men attempt many subterfuges among them, pretending to be pilgrims, hermits and finally nuns. It is of course the "how" of all this that makes the musical journey worth taking.
What would make Rossini dream this up?
Rossini was at flood tide and looking toward the end of his career, managing his own dreams as an artist: to retire rich, beloved and famous - all before forty. It is a work bracketed by two of the towering heights of bel canto -- the Siege of Corinth and William Tell -- and he lavishes upon this gorgeous nonsense some of his greatest inspiration and most beautiful music -- plus it's fun.
Tune in to the Metropolitan Opera’s latest production with well known and celebrated tenor Juan Diego Flórez as Ory; the new South African soprano Pretty Yende as Countess Adéle (see video); and Karine Deshayes as the count's page in the trouser role of Isolier.
This Saturday at noon is Rossini’s "Le Comte Ory," here on KPAC & KTXI.
- For more information on this performance visit: www.metoperafamily.org