Entertainment :: Theatre

Le Comte Ory

by Jonathan Leaf
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Monday Jan 28, 2013
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’Le Comte Ory’ At the Metropolitan Opera
’Le Comte Ory’ At the Metropolitan Opera  

Apt name! A star is born!

That’s likely to be your reaction to first hearing -- and seeing -- the literally sensational soprano Pretty Yende, who’s making her American debut at the Met in its current revival of Bartlett Sher’s 2011 production of Rossini’s "Le Comte Ory."

Yende, a South African who premiered not long ago at La Scala, took over the lead role of Countess Adele with ten days to learn her part when Nino Machaidze had to pull out.

It’s likely that Yende’s Met debut will be spoken of in the future in the way that Leonard Bernstein’s first appearance conducting the New York Philharmonic -- made with just a few hours to prepare -- has come to be or that violinist Midori’s unexpected but much touted debut was.

She’s beautiful, and the 27-year old’s voice is already one of the best in the world. Put on stage opposite Juan Diego Florez, the most admired lyric tenor on earth, she actually often outshined him. Her voice is supremely sweet and creamy. It’s vocal dessert.

Asked to sing innumerable runs of coloratura top notes, Yende manufactured them all without ever cracking her voice and with a wonderful lushness and a surprisingly full sound. That she’s slim and darkly alluring made the effect ever so much more dazzling.

Put on stage opposite Juan Diego Florez, the most admired lyric tenor on earth, Pretty Yende actually often outshined him. Her voice is supremely sweet and creamy. It’s vocal dessert.

One thing Yende struggled to do, however, was keep a straight face. I think she’ll learn that with time, but it must not have been easy amidst all the hijinks of this comic opera about a group of 25 men left behind during the Crusades who manage to enter a convent by presenting themselves as a contingent of lonely nuns, unshaven but in full habit.

The wimpled band is led by the titular hero (Diego Florez). Accompanying him are his handsome baritone sidekick Raimbaud (Nathan Gunn) and his rivalrous page, Isolier, played by Karine Deshayes in a pants role.

The production was originally presented with mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato in the part of Isolier, the good-humored secretary who stands among the number of those trying to warn the Countess about the antics of Count Ory. While Deshayes is game and energetic, she hasn’t the natural vitality, spunk and sex appeal of DiDonato.

But Bartlett Sher’s gags are still on display, as are Cathy Zuber’s wacky and often wildly anachronistic costumes. (Although the story is set in the twelfth century, Yende is dressed for most of the show in a purple ball gown from late nineteenth century Paris.)

The opera has not historically been among Rossini’s most popular. This isn’t a function of the music, which is delightful, so much as it is of a certain inconsistency in its form. While it is an opera buffa -- a comic composition -- it was originally written for production at the Paris Opera, and it is therefore composed of long and very complex musical ensembles. The second act, thus, includes a much extended song about wine-drinking featuring 25 men in nun’s attire. In this way, it plays as farce but sounds like grand opera.

The result can feel long at times, gorgeous as the tunes and the vocal harmony are. That said, the trios between Diego Florez, Deshayes and Yende are astonishing.

Simply put, the performance I attended on Friday was one I will never forget. Debuts like this happen rarely as singers with such a combination of looks and voice are equally rare.

"Le Comte Ory" continues through Feb. 5 at the Metropolitan Opera at Lincoln Center. For information and tickets call 212-362-6000 or go to www.metoperafamily.org/

Jonathan Leaf is a playwright and journalist living in New York.

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