Even during the 1980s, when “easy-drinking” German wines were flooding the UK mass market, Blue Nun – a brand name for Liebfraumilch – was considered a bit naff. Much the same can be said about Hugo de Ana’s new staging of Le Comte Ory which opened the Rossini Opera Festival in Pesaro last night; a perky little French farce in which the eponymous Count gains entry into the Château de Formoutiers, to continue his amorous pursuit of the Comtesse Adèle, by donning a nun’s habit… here, blue robes over frilly red knickerbockers and wearing a starched white cornette. 

Juan Diego Flórez (Comte Ory)
© ROF | Amati Bacciardi

It’s an amusing image, particularly when Pesaro favourite and ROF artistic director Juan Diego Flórez makes his appearance at the castle by nonchalantly gliding in on a scooter. The naffness comes by way of de Ana’s set, derived from Hieronymus Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights, and his management of the chorus. The left-hand panel of the Bosch, the Joining of Adam and Eve, is tilted and framed in blue neon, a brief front-drop which rises to reveal other elements from the painting. Fertility is the prominent symbolism, from the giant eggshell that forms the torso of Bosch’s “tree-man” – here stuffed with Easter eggs – to the flowery headdresses adorning the ladies of the chorus. Ragonde, the Comtesse’s lady-in-waiting, appears with a frying pan, cracking eggs to whisk up an omelette. 

Andrzej Filończyk (Raimbaud), Juan Diego Flórez (Ory) and cast
© ROF | Amati Bacciardi

The mysterious “hermit” – Ory’s Act 1 disguise – conflates the unruly Pan, complete with furry facial features and horns, with Old Testament prophet Moses. When he dispenses his amorous advice to his page Isolier, who is also besotted with Adèle, it is via two tablets of stone… whose texts light up at the flick of a switch. A silent red devil accompanies Isolier through Act 1, while cherubs with censers announce the hermit’s arrival. In Act 2, Adèle leads her female companions through a fitness regime, with yoga mats and hoops, with Ory’s “Sister Colette” eagerly taking over as the Comtesse’s masseuse. Giant cases display exhibits from the Bosch painting, including an oversized duck that serves as the bed on which Ory attempts to seduce Adèle. It’s gaudy and playful, but de Ana doesn’t know what to do with the chorus, often reducing them to hand-jives and choreography that look amateurish. 

Juan Diego Flórez (Comte Ory)
© ROF | Amati Bacciardi

The musical side of things are very good, often outstanding. For a start, the score is a complete joy, dispatched with energy by Diego Matheuz and the athletic Orchestra Sinfonica Nazionale della Rai. It was one of those works that Rossini had to produce in a hurry for Paris when he was also directing the Théâtre Italien. Le Comte Ory recycles a lot of material from Il viaggio a Reims – a one-off pièce d’occasion composed to mark the coronation of Charles X in 1825. Six numbers were redeployed, but the chief glory of the opera – the exquisite Act 2 trio for Ory, Adèle and Isolier – was entirely new, ravishing music for Ory’s attempted ravishing of the Comtesse, unaware that his page is turning it into a ménage à trois

Juan Diego Flórez (Comte Ory)
© ROF | Amati Bacciardi

In 2003, Flórez starred in Lluis Pasqual’s new production here. Now, 19 years on, he returns in another new Ory, so he’s a true veteran of the role, although his tenor still sounds as fresh as a daisy. His tone remains undimmed by time, instantly recognisable and steely in its upper attacks, his agility around Rossini’s taxing fioritura remarkably elastic. French soprano Julie Fuchs was a superb Adèle who barely conceals her sexual desires. Fuchs has a terrific soprano, light yet incisive, and the pinpoint accuracy of her coloratura was staggering, adding further embellishments on repeats. “Ce téméraire”, the cabaletta of her Act 2 duet with Flórez, saw the two trading vocal gymnastics with élan. 

Juan Diego Flórez (Ory), Julie Fuchs (Adèle) and Maria Kataeva (Isolier)
© ROF | Amati Bacciardi

Maria Kataeva, in a dapper beret looking not unlike a young Stravinsky, was a sprightly Isolier, a fruity rasp in her lower register quite unusual for this role, but she succeeded in capturing the page’s Cherubino-like lust. The trio with Flórez and Fuchs was the vocal highlight, despite the three having to clamber across the splayed giant duck as a makeshift bed. 

Andrzej Filończyk was a spirited Raimbaud, who procures a supply of wine from the château’s cellars to refresh Ory’s “nuns”, his baritone suitably rich and well-oiled. Nahuel Di Pierro’s bass was in resplendent shape as Ory’s tutor and only the hollow tone of Monica Bacelli’s Ragonde disappointed. Despite their makeshift choreography, the Coro del Teatro Ventidio Basso sang with glee. When the music is this fun, you can overlook the occasional misfires in de Ana’s indulgent staging.


Mark’s accommodation in Pesaro was funded by the Amici del ROF

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