Cher Public

Think pink

pinkAlthough I had seen LoftOpera’s two special summer presentations last year, I hadn’t attended a full-scale opera by the group until Thursday night’s premiere of Le Comte Ory. Returning to Bushwick’s The Muse, an enormous space that usually functions as a circus school, Loft offered an unusually satisfying, immensely entertaining production of Rossini’s scintillating portrait of an inveterate seducer—and with all tickets just $30, it’s an irresistible bargain! 

Cobbled together from chunks of Il Viaggio à Reims, his pièce d’occasion written for the coronation of Charles X, Rossini’s delightful French-language Ory is done far too rarely, waiting until just five years ago for its Metropolitan Opera premiere. The difficulty in finding a suavely charming tenor for the title role, one who can cope with its daunting high tessitura no doubt explained why the Met waited for the availability of Juan Diego Flórez to produce it. Loft’s Ory, Icelandic tenor Thorsteinn Arbjornsson, made a brave and sometimes successful stab at conquering the role’s demands.

His weak middle and lower range tended to disappear too often, but his many high Cs and Ds rang out strongly, while his modestly low-key portrayal proved uncommonly charming. Director John de los Santos’s energetically appealing updated production happily eschewed over-the-top broad comedy and allowed Arbjornsson to soften Ory’s predatory behavior by gently beguiling the smitten ladies of the chorus. Decked out in Ashley Soliman’s fanciful hot pink suit abetted by the randy Raimbaud of Steven Eddy, the disguised hermit twinkled slyly but harmlessly.

Ory 1Once in his next disguise as a nun in another outrageous pink outfit, he made the most of his wry attempts at seducing the not-so innocent Comtesse Adèle of sparkling soprano Sharin Apostolou. Grown bored waiting for her husband’s return from war, the glamorously self-dramatizing Apostolou made a swell entrance clad in widow’s black and soon revealed in a grand cabaletta full of cascades of frilly coloratura that she was more than tempted by the attentions of Isolier, Ory’s page, superbly portrayed in travesti by the shining mezzo Elizabeth Pojanowski. The production’s particularly impressive female contingent was completed by the primly stern and rich-voiced Ragonde of Shirin Eskandani.

Sean Kelly’s fleet and boisterous conducting reveled in Rossini’s bubbly comedy although Arbjornsson and Eddy were occasionally overwhelmed by the vibrant if uneven 31-piece band. The magnificent first-act finale drawn from an even more complex ensemble from Viaggio threatened to go off the rails at moments but still made its thrilling impact. Kelly included the Tutor’s long and demanding scena which adds little to the story, but one was grateful as bass Jeff Beruan sang with it with stylish verve while unfortunately overdoing the doddering “old man” business he was saddled with.

Ory 2One of Loft’s most engaging qualities is that it achieves so much with so little: Ory took place on several three-foot-high platforms placed in the center of The Muse, accessorized with only a few props including the necessary bed for the second act’s sublime trio. Although I’m not sure everyone in the audience could see the ribald goings-on on that four-poster, de los Santos’s wryly raunchy staging of Adèle, Isolier and Ory cavorting in the darkened bedroom was the evening’s inevitably delicious high point. Its three performers sang soulfully while carousing with sweaty delight. It was even more fun than the earlier drunken saturnalia of Ory’s coarse male cohorts, also fetchingly garbed in pink nun’s habits. A hilarious bout of half-naked Twister followed by an enthusiastic kick-line of hairy, stomping religieuses brought the house down.

All these delights plus dazzling pre-performance aerial routines by Nicki Miller and Chriselle Tidrick and the availability of affordable wine from Archer Roose and beer from Brooklyn Brewery made Loft’s Comte Ory one of the season’s most delectable evenings, despite having to endure some of New York’s least comfy chairs and benches. Four more performances of Ory remain through June 11 but they will surely soon sell out. I’m eager to see what Brianna Maury, Daniel Ellis-Ferris and LoftOpera have in store with Mozart’s challenging Così fan tutte, their next project coming in September!

Photos: Robert Altman

  • “His weak middle and lower range tended to disappear too often…” What a useful phrase for any opera blogger or person commenting on opera! Could equally be “Her…”

  • mjmacmtenor

    I recall seeing a young Rockwell Blake in Comte Ory with the NYCO in LA around 1980. Aslhey Putnam was Adele and Sam Ramey in the cast as well. The mezzo was Susanna Marsee, who had a substantial career at NYCO.

    • WindyCityOperaman

      Susanne Marsee was an amazing singer. I never understood why she never had a Met debut.

      • Hippolyte

        Marsee may very well have been Isolier with City Opera in LA, but the first-cast in New York was Faith Esham.

      • Krunoslav

        I enjoyed Marsee when I heard her *als Kind*, and like her Nicklausse on Rudel’s CONTES recording, but the Met in the 70s had her repertory pretty well covered with Mmes. Horne. von Stade, Forst and Ewing.

  • Camille

    Which is better—the M train or the L train to get there and which one dumps you out the closest???

    Also, I cain’t trink bier aber ik kann trink wein, so do they have anything but those local brewery kraftbier degustations???

    I really kind of enjoy this opera and think it might be more enjoyable sans the bartlett pear production, soooooooooo mebbe I’ll go.

    Maybe I should drive over, it would be faster as I just remembered the L train is going into some overhaul and is screwed.

    • I would say driving or else a car service (mine cost about $20 with tip.) The L train is currently running, but it’s a long way out, and of course, there are lots of changes involved in getting back to home sweet Queens.

      • Camille

        Well, gracias, Cieca.

        Maybe I’ll ratchet up the excitement by thumbing my way over the waters?

        Just think of the murder-mystery novel that could come out of “My misadventurous trip to The Muse’s Count Ory” I’ll turn to Daphne du Maurier for inspiration. Or Oscar, sweet Oscar.

  • Natus

    Regarding travel, I thought the L from the west side of Manhattan was surprisingly quick, and it’s a two block walk to the fascinating Muse space.

    However, I feel as though the reviewer and I listened to the same opera--Apostolou, Beruan, and Eskandani were indeed superb!--but saw two different ones. Sightlines to the stage and to the surtitles were deeply problematic, and that is probably an understatement. Did the producers simply not know, or not care? The costumes and the set-pieces, even the all-important bed, were a mish-mash of different styles with no discernible anchoring point. Intentional? Who knows? It’s amusing that the inclusion of the Tutor’s famous and wonderfully sung aria is questioned, but not the fact that Mr. Beruan sang it to the floor as he looked through his notes, searched for a socket for his plug, and stared at his laptop screen. I don’t need to go to Brooklyn for that; I can hop on any train. Also lost in the outrageousness of the staging is the fact that if the Countess Adèle WANTS to be seduced, there’s no conflict. Then the evening is just a French review with cross-dressing and a threesome at the end.

    Which may be why Loft Opera chose the piece in the first place. What audience member is going to criticize the incoherent staging when the leads are half-naked and romping in a bed? Why, it seems almost in bad taste to find fault with anything on stage, when the company is so eager to shed their clothes. Take that, stodgy Met!

  • WindyCityOperaman

    Didn’t know that Andy Dick was in this (fourth “nun” from the left).

  • Camille

    Do any of you guys stop to think of this: how HARD it is to get under 25s into seeing an opera, on their own time and merit, and not shepherded by an Alleswissende Älter? And in Brooklyn? If it’s not KEWL, not a place to ‘hook-up’, it ain’t happening. The only thing important is that OPERA HAPPENS.

    And do any of you all think Gio. ROSSINI wouldn’t be delighted to know this work, a pastiche, is STILL being played and performed almost 200 years after having been written, in whatever way, shape, or manner whatsoever?? Rossini understood re-invention, after all, as he did it himslf and had an enormous wit about himself and his music.

    The only important factor I see here at all is that a work which had lain languishing in the deep freeze for decades, is being performed to a group of human beings under 50(!), and its genial wit lives on, as well it should. However they have to slice that banana, so be it.

    And besides which, these kids are producing this on a shoestring or started out n such, and MAKE-DO, (an old-fashioned virtue), with what they manage to get their hands on.

    I can’t promise to getting there this week as I have other plans and am not feeling very well and always fear a trip to wildest Brooklyn (the Olde Countrie), but, to invoke a denizen and star of Brooklyn, “one of these days, Alice, just one of these days…”

  • Natus

    Camille, I have been on the forefront in my own way of creating opera for students and new opera-goers. I know what a struggle that is and I laud LoftOpera for doing it. But I don’t think you have to loot and ransack operas to do so. You--and many others--seem to think that the ONLY way to get the hipster bro-dudes in the doors is to be KEWL. That is a profound misreading of the current dynamic. And it will harm the industry long-term if young people nowadays are taught that ALL operas contain nudity, explicit sex, and grad school stagings. Can you get them in the door without that? I think yes.

    Le Comte Ory, just so we’re clear, was recently produced at the Met as recently as 2011 and in Zurich with Bartoli in March of this year. Hardly in the “deep-freeze for decades.” I love that Loft Opera presented this. I just have issues with how they presented it.

    • Oh look everyone, parterre now has an anonymous concern troll.

      PS: for the record, LoftOpera has never presented a staging that included either nudity or explicit sex. And what does “grad school staging” mean in this context beyond “not done in imitation of how every dreary regional company used to do it in the 1950s, complete with the costumes rented from Stivanello?”

    • Camille

      While I do understand your point of view I do think that the methods which the Loft Opera (with whom. Have utterly no association in any way at all) is using to attract a new audience are done with perhaps a considerable amount of reflection and research upon the modus operandi to make an impecunious operation SUCCEED, and whatever one thinks of their methods, they are, in fact, succeeding, and where many others seem to fail.

      I have no particular doggie in this battle, as do you, but am ONLY gratified they are representing an opera to a NEW audience which otherwise may NOT have attended the recent MET production, a MET prima assoluta, if I am not mistaken, one which most certainly HAS lain languishing with the exception of the Zürich Bartoli/Camarena performances, some NYCO performances back in whenever it was. My only previous knowledge of the work was via an ancient French recording which starred Alain Vanzo and which I loved! The usual opera for young audiences, that would be the perennial Nozze di Figaro, which I’ve countless times heard in “young singer” productions. YAWN.

      In my own personal experience, I was given Hänsel und Gretelas a pre-pubescent and HATED it! It was only after complaining to my fey uncle “Uncle Fay”, whereupon he threw me an evil look and a copy of an ancient Cetra Soria Il Tabarro with the heavy breathing of Clara PETRELLA, that I decided to sign up! That was what I was lusting after and I’d found it, At last!!!! I was 10.

      At 13 I was listening to the great rolling orgasm opening of Rosenkavalier, without hnderstanding anything but loving the joyride. It has stayed with me forever. “Hab mir’s gelobt!”

      And I wondered what that lady was kvetching about, about the “Schnee vom gegangenen Jahre”. I sure as hell know now and I thank my thirteen year old self for absorbing von Hoffmanstahl’s wisdom at such an age. It has stayed with me my whole life through. Now, when going to the hairdresser I warn Hippolyte not to turn me heute nicht into an “Alte Frau”, so it has its practical applications as well, you see.

      A few years ago I took a 15 year old who hated her parents to hear Elektra and she loved it; went home and AXED no one, too smart. I am, of course, NOT a “nice woman” nor have I ever had the slightest aspiration toward being one, either, so that is to be duly considered.

      In truth and in all fairness, It’s probable I’d have a lot of the same reservations myself--but I don’t know that and don’t know if I’ll go but I never let anyone make up my mind for me so, until I do go, I’ll remain open to it.

      The thing which CONCERNS ME most is that this scintillating reworking of Rossini’s grande pastiche Il Viaggio a Reims (Also done by NYCO, for which I bless them) is seeing the light of day, in anyway whatSO-EVER. Kids can figure it out, that is, the ones who WANT to, and eventually separate the wheat from the chatf but if you don’t get them there IN THE FIRST PLACE, well, it hardly matters how well or tastefully it is done as no one will have SEEN it. This is the only point I am trying to register.

      As Nellie the Melba Toast said so famously “Giv’em MUCK!”
      Don’t worry--they’ll find the lotus blossom when it floats to the top if they’ve half a brain.

      Buonanotte a tuttiquanti!

      • knowingclam

        Not quite “languishing” still. Le comte Ory was at Des Moines Metro Opera a summer or two and is upcoming at Seattle Opera with two different casts.

      • Camille

        This is where I knew Le Comte from and it was Michel Sénéchal, and NOT my beloved Alain Vanzo, who sang it, that’s odd. There are a couple other recordings now which are older but this seems to be the one I heard fifteen years ago and has just been published on youtube three months ago so I am quite, quite glad to hear it once more. A wonderful work !

  • Natus

    Ah, so sorry that I deviated from the Parterre Box orthodoxy. “Concern troll” is insulting, incendiary, and does not reflect what was written above.

    But this discussion has been most illuminating, so thank you. It’s fascinating to learn that the only way to direct opera nowadays is either pure Regietheatre or “done in imitation of how every dreary regional company used to do it in the 1950s, complete with the costumes rented from Stivanello?” Finger on the pulse!

    • Your defensiveness is noted. You’re the one who introduced the term “grad school staging” (among a flurry of inaccurate descriptions of LoftOpera’s work) and I think it’s up to you to define your terms.

      So, what does “grad school staging” mean? And how will the presentation of opera in this (as yet undefined) style “harm the industry long-term?”

    • PCally

      Well making up facts does nothing to validate your point. There was no nudity or sex at the show on opening night. And as of yet I have yet to see a single example of how ALL new opera goers would be convinced by certain companies presenting things in a particular way (which LoftOpera doesn’t even seem to be doing anyway since, based on the revies and comments of others, their reperotire choice thus far has been varied and their stagings quite different from one another). Nor to I see any real clamour for productions that can be fit solely into the regie classification (though that is my personal preference). For the record it’s not lack of nudity that people continue to criticize the stagings at the met. It’s because more often than not they are simply unengaing, traditional or untraditional. You don’t like the way loft opera is presenting work and there’s nothing wrong with that. But that’s simpy because they don’t put things on according to your taste. They certainly aren’t doing anything to distort the true meaning of opera. They are simply finding an alternative way to present repertoire to audiences.