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21 October, 2004

Le Comte Ory. Another auspicious night for the local opera troupe

Canterbury Opera, Christchurch, New Zealand

Thurs 21 Oct 2004

Count OryBernard Hull
Countess AdeleEmma Sloman
Isolier, Count Ory's PageMajka Kaiser
Raimbaud, Ory's 'friend'Richard Grundy
TutorValeriy Maksymov
Ragonde, Countess's companionMaree Hawtin-Morrow
AliceHelen Charlton
A knightJack Bourke
c.Michael Joel
d.David McPhail

Dear Colleagues,

This was another auspicious night for the local opera troupe.

It would be unfair to compare with the great opera houses of the world, but quality needs to be sought and acknowledged wherever art appears. And the quality was high. No flat singing, no embarrassing gaffs, no scenery collapses and an orchestra of a good standard and size.

The modern theatre has charm and includes a 'floating' balcony. It forms part of the Town Hall complex near the Avon 'River' whose botanic banks are currently displaying the wonders of spring including cherry blossoms, horse chestnuts, tulips, etc. The subtitles were by way of TV screens and only gave about one line in ten of the English text. The translation by Brian Castles-Onion was clever and racy but at times laboured by plosives ("Good enough, good enough" repeated over is not easy for singer to instil beauty musically).

I am not sure why proceedings were moved from 11 century crusader times to the 1700's. There were no crusades in the latter period, apart from the soi-disant '4th crusade' to the Americas. Costumes were probably more difficult for the change but all were colourful and tasteful. The settings were projected Rococo scenes on a huge white circle backdrop on an otherwise plain stage. It worked for me. The castle drinking scene with Ory and his 'nuns on the run' was brilliantly staged. Slapstick allegory with the last supper would only have offended the most orthodox in the audience.

I had the privilege of seeing the opera at Glyndebourne in the 1990s and enjoyed the chance to see it again. Despite many memorable musical moments, Ory lacks an 'immortal' aria. The overture is inauspicious and, rather than capitalising on his genius for the catchy tune and orchestral innovation, Rossini may have been experimenting with tempi and other more subtle effects in this, his second last opera before the long composing 'silence'. Some Ory melodies are almost trite yet some features were quite novel and worthy of his successors. Most come from his 'Viaggio a Reims' written for the coronation of the last French Bourbon King and not reproduced on the usual opera 'circuit'. The act one finale has a wonderful descending orchestral ornamental device re-used by Strauss almost exactly at the end of the Fledermaus overture. I also noted some repeated cadences which I have only heard elsewhere in Verdi's operas, written years later. Another duet/concerted piece is similar to the 'Tous les trios reunis' in Figlia del Regimento of Donizetti.

Bernard Hull was the star of the piece as Count Ory. He is from Adelaide according to the programme notes and did a Hoffmann here in the past. He has a highly placed tenor voice suited the to this very difficult role. Like Rockwell Blake, he can sing high, long and loud . and then do it all again, and again, for a whole evening. The voice can sound a little harsh at times but he uses carefully placed diminuendos to soften and sweeten the effect. He also has a confident stage presence, communicating much with his eyes and gestures. Hull also still possesses youthful good looks.

Emma Sloman as the Countess also had some taxing highly placed singing. She managed but may have tired towards the end. Her wig was extraordinary, as was Ory's. Once again, she did coloratura alone, in duet and with chorus, each being exciting and in-character.

As Ory's Page, Majka Kaiser was excellent. The bedroom scene was hilarious with the three in bed singing, acting and cavorting at the one time.

The others all sang well and the continuo was in fine form. The orchestra under Michael Joel played creditably.

All in all an uplifting and positive experience for a tourist from Sydney. And so reassuring to see a small city like Christchurch (pop 400,000) having an active and high quality opera company.

comments by Andrew Byrne ..