Seattle Opera’s fast-paced and fun ‘Count Ory,’ starring Lawrence Brownlee, continues through Aug. 20.
Frothy, fast-paced, and irresistibly funny: “Count Ory” may go down in history as Seattle Opera’s most uproarious season-opener ever. The opening weekend had opera patrons asking each other, “Why don’t companies produce this work more often?”
Well, it’s not that easy. To make “Ory” work, you need adroit staging and great visuals, as well as a cast that can handle the fiendishly speedy and florid vocal writing while acting up a storm. Luckily, Seattle audiences get all of this and more in this show, with a tongue-in-cheek storybook ambience that was met with wild enthusiasm in the audience.
Australian stage director Lindy Hume kept the action continually on the boil, while Dan Potra’s ingenious designs provided an ever-changing set with elements that revolve, slide, open, and close constantly into new forms, all beautifully lighted by Duane Schuler. A fairy-tale castle three stories high can rotate, open, shut, and admit singers in many different ways. Floating cartoon-balloon captions inform the audience about what’s happening, much to the delight of operagoers.
‘The Wicked Adventures of Count Ory,” by Gioachino Rossini
through Aug. 20 (Lawrence Brownlee performs Aug. 13, 17, 20; Barry Banks sings Ory in the alternate cast). McCaw Hall, 321 Mercer St., Seattle; $25-$272 (206-389-7676 or seattleopera.org)
The over-the-top costumes (which, like the set, were built by Seattle Opera) seem to draw inspiration from Liberace or Elton John, with a side of Monty Python: there are wild colors, frills and spangles, as well as codpieces in remarkable dimensions. And, of course, there are nuns’ habits, disguises donned by the lecherous Count Ory and his roistering henchmen in order to gain access to the women of the castle while their protectors are off to the Crusades.
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Fortunately, all the entertaining visuals are a backdrop to some spectacular singing. In the opening-night cast’s title role, tenor Lawrence Brownlee hits more high Cs than an ocean-going vessel (along with several even higher notes), with nimble precision and a tonal beauty that has already made him the toast of Europe. Opposite him was soprano Sarah Coburn, whose high-flying coloratura riffs are dazzling indeed — bigger and warmer now than earlier in her career but still fluent and accurate. In the “pants role” of the young boy Isolier, Hanna Hipp sang and acted with easy alacrity. Rodion Pogossov was a stylish, energetic Raimbaud; Patrick Carfizzi had a great turn as the hapless Tutor, and supporting roles were well taken by Jennifer Bromagen and Maria Zifchak. The ensemble work was terrific, except for some intonation problems at the end of the first act.
Sunday’s alternate cast presented Barry Banks, a tenor with handsome tone quality and adroit comic sense, in the title role; his Countess Adèle, Lauren Snouffer, displayed impressive coloratura and heart-stopping high notes. Will Liverman (as Raimbaud) and Stephanie Lauricella (Isolier) were both first-rate.
Giacomo Sagripanti’s conducting kept the fast-paced score galloping along, while attentively supporting the singers. A hearty “Bravi” to his fleet-fingered orchestra. The chorus, brilliantly responsive to all the music and the texts, sang and acted with sizzling energy and a sure sense of drama.
We’re told that when Franz Liszt conducted “Ory” in Weimar, he said it “bubbled like champagne” — and had bottles of it distributed to the audience. That’s a nice idea … but this production bubbles just fine on its own.