In comparison, despite all its musical brilliance, the Count Ory may have funny situations, but no psychological insight into the characters, and painfully advances to the first half of act one with very little inherent humor. So, only the stakes should have a problem with Cal “One Man, Two Guvnors” Crystal for camping and the vamp; and what a gift he has in a brilliant formation of soloists and a young choir that can do anything with him even if they sing in style.
Last night’s performance, the penultimate, was the first of two with Robert Murray, a vintage tenor gifted for comedy, replacing Jack Swanson as the licentious Earl Ory determined to seduce Countess Adele (all women demonstrated chastity while the real men went to the Crusades). Murray may not be the born Rossini tenore di grazie of the kind indicated by Swanson’s biography, but he carries vocal pyrotechnics with dramatic panache. He also looks like he’s always been a part of the ensemble – he’s used to Garsington’s operetta – as he juggles oranges, changes Groucho Marx’s glasses and eyebrows as quickly as possible and throws himself, though presumably with choreographic care, into the antics of act two. where he and his men disguise themselves as nuns to make their way into the castle where Adele and the female company are sequestered. This one-act plot, as it is, was Rossini’s original idea; adding a sort of “prequel” setting up the characters and forcing Ory to adopt another pose as a hermetic expert in love matters, could have been a mistake. Musically, there is a lot of lively writing for the choir; one of two groups of 24 in Garsington is superb from the start, and McCrystal gives them Spamalot-match-1200-hairstyles (by Takis, in garish accord with his open ensemble) as well as stylized aggression roles as individuals (although the gag of the White as snow witch with apple shouldn’t have lasted beyond the first scene).
However, it takes a long time to meet the heroine Adèle. And then things really explode with little American soprano Andrea Carroll going against the tide of the languid virgin (as Rossini’s music also does) by putting her yoga training to good use in extraordinary collapses (in the act II this Adele irritates Ory and her companion Ragonde – true contralto Patricia Bardon (photo above on the right with Adèle in the center of Carroll, Jacques Imbralo and the first Ory, Jack Swanson), another stylish singer totally at ease on stage – with her agility, which they imitate in vain, and ends up doing the splits on the dining table, in photo below). Vocally, she is a lyrical dream coloratura, singing so many roles at the Vienna State Opera; Garsington could build a Ariane auf Naxos around Carroll’s alleged acrobatic Zerbinetta. No one else is second behind these two. Jacques Imbralo and Joshua Bloom start off with an early talkie comedy – this Raimbaud thinks he’s meant to be Rambo, and Bloom expresses his anger at not getting the lead because of the three-in-a-bed scene – and provides a stentor the backbone of solos and ensembles (the one that kicks off the finale of Act 1, adapted from the “Gran Pezzo Concertato” of Rossini’s previous opera, Il viaggio in Reimss, gets a round of applause when it flames across the board a cappella to the revelation of Ory’s disguise – much like “Hail, Poetry” in The pirates of Penzance. We’re just happy to hear chorus full blast again, anyway). Katie Bray (in photo below with Bloom) is vibrant and delightful in the lead role of Isolier la page – yes, it’s pantoland – and goes wonderfully as a duet with Carroll. Rossini, however, keeps the climax for the end: a trio of confusion, deliciously orchestrated, when the count gives up his wimple and slips into Adele’s room where Isolier is already installed. McCrystal’s humor so far is fun, but not quite of the laugh variety until you cry that he’s unleashed in the ENO. Iolanthe. Above all, it is the scene that most perfectly matches his definition of “rubber chicken served on a golden plate”. , then the lady and the page use hands on sticks to stroke the fooled count all over.
The music is almost lost here in bursts of laughter, but Valentina Peleggi continues to gain precious colors and phrases from the wonderful Philharmonia in the pit. She’s another eye-opener in what is an evening of sheer fun, if you let yourself go. Fortunately, it is or was filmed, so a larger audience should be able to share in the fun. There is nothing quite like sharing the merriment live, and how much we need to have a good laugh right now.