Review: Le Comte Ory Is a Beautifully Staged and Magnificently Sung Romp by Lyric Opera
Rossini's Le Comte Ory is my second French-language opera within a week. Verdi's Don Carlos is also at the Lyric. Le Comte Ory is considerably more lighthearted and is in the bel canto style that requires Herculean singing skills and comic touch. This presentation was a delightful change and showcased the talent of tenor Lawrence Brownlee as the libidinous Count Ory. Coloratura soprano Kathryn Lewek as the Countess Adèle is nothing less than astonishing. This production is directed by Kathleen Smith Belcher, who also led the 2021 version of The Magic Flute. As with Mozart's whimsical opera, Smith Belcher has a keen gift for comedic and quirky touches that levels up the production. The Lyric orchestra is conducted by Music Director Enrique Mazzola with his usual verve and brilliance.
This story is set during the Crusades of medieval times. The beautiful Countess Adèle takes refuge in her castle when her brother goes off to fight the holy war. The Count sees this as his chance to make a conquest of the Countess. Rossini fills this opera with nimble and memorable music as with The Barber of Seville, which Brownlee also starred in at Lyric. Brownlee scales the dancing notes of the bel canto style with ease—never a hint of strain with his rich and clear tenor.
Brownlee is also a fun comic actor to watch as his Count uses disguise and his best pal Raimbaud to make headway with the ladies. Raimbaud was sung by baritone Ian Rucker in his Lyric debut. Rucker was a cast change for Joshua Hopkins, who was ill. Rucker is a first-year in the Ryan Opera Center training program. His excellent baritone and nimble singing were delightful. The Ryan Center has produced quite a few of the world's finest opera and classical singers.
Speaking of the Ryan Center, the role of Alice was sung by Lindsey Reynolds, who is the Voice from Above in Don Carlos. She is just as wonderful in Le Comte Ory with a sweet soprano and a lovely stage presence. Italian bass Mirco Palazzi makes his Lyric debut as the Tutor who is hired to teach Adèle and keep an eye on her. Bass singing is often overlooked for the skill and ability to hit deeper notes with clarity and strength. Hopefully, there will be more roles in Palazzo's future at Lyric.
Zoie Reams brings some levity to her role as Adèle's companion Ragonde. Reams has appeared at Lyric previously in La Traviata. She possesses a glorious mezzo-soprano that compliments Lewek's coloratura. Mezzo-soprano Kayleigh Decker takes on the role of Ory's page Isolier. In the 19th century, this role might have been played by a castrato as the 19th century segued from the baroque to bel banto largely due to Rossini. Decker sings this role with aplomb and a smooth melisma. Decker is also a very good comic actor, which is a necessity in Le Comte Ory.
There are not enough words to laud the soaring and crystalline coloratura soprano that is Kathryn Lewek. The highest notes are crisp and flowing even with the acrobatics of bel canto singing. Lewek is quite funny as Adèle who makes a fool of the Count. Lewek and Brownlee have a bubbly chemistry that makes for a funny and sexy opera. The Count tries all sorts of ruses to get next to Adèle and she catches on to every one of them with the help of her companion Ragonde.
Things get even wilder when the Count wheedles his way into the castle where the women of the town are sequestered. Brownlee and Rucker dressed as nunerwith wimples no less—need to be seen in person. If Some Like it Hot were an opera Brownlee and Rucker would be my choice for Daphne and Josephine. Opera is entertainment however highbrow some claim it to be. In all of the years that I have been going to Lyric, I have always seen it as truly fine theatre full of excitement and intrigue. This fine cast is woven together as top musicians and actors.
As usual, the costumes at Lyric are authentic and an ode to craftsmanship. Catherine Zuber is the costume designer. Adèle is dressed in sumptuous dresses with hoop skirts and sculpted bodices. The nun costumes are era-appropriate (Catholic girl here, and I know nuns). My only quibble is that Lawrence Brownlee was not wearing leopard boots under his nun outfit. It is on the cover of the program and he rocks them.
I highly recommend Le Comte Ory. It is a great story of hidden identities, tables being turned, and dudes in convent drag. It is also one of the most beautifully sung operas in the bel canto style that I have heard in a while. Le Comte Ory is composed by Gioachino Rossini, sung in French with English titles. It runs through November 26 at Lyric Opera of Chicago, 20 N. Wacker Dr. Tickets start at $36 and it's the perfect way to enjoy the beautiful Civic Opera building for 2 hours and 40 minutes including a 25-minute intermission. More information can be found at Lyricopera.org.