- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 16, 2006

The Wolf Trap Opera Company launched its impossibly entertaining version of Gioacchino Rossini’s “Le Comte Ory” this past weekend, and it’s a must-see. One of the composer’s lesser-performed works, “Le Comte Ory” (“Count Ory”) is notable for its fast-paced, surprisingly bawdy plot, and its witty score.

As staged by the Wolf Trap Opera, the work is split into two unequal halves, each highlighting attempts by the roguish young count to penetrate the defenses of the Castle of Formoutiers, occupied only by the ladies of the court and a few guardsmen. Where are their men? In an unintentional bit of irony given the current situation in the Middle East, the errant knights are off on the Crusades, leaving the way open for Ory (a medieval draft dodger?) and his minions to lay siege to their ladies’ hearts.

Act I has the count posing as a holy man who arrives to give solace to the comely young ladies, most notably the chaste Comtesse Adele. Unsuccessful, he stages an even more outrageous attempt in Act II, as he and his men enter the castle once more, disguised as nuns.

Penned in libidinous French, “Le Comte Ory” is positively vaudevillian. Director Chuck Hudson picks up the cue, crafting a production that seems, at times, like an outtake from “Spamalot” executed at breakneck speed. The action takes place within designer Robert Martin’s cartoonish two-dimensional set, which is occasionally enhanced by fly-by entrances of cardboard cutout creatures, a la Terry Gilliam. Daniel James Cole’s faux medieval costuming adds to the fun.

Rightly, Mr. Hudson plays the production for plenty of laughs, which is just fine since all the naughty jokes are there to begin with. As a result, Wolf Trap’s rising young cast gets to stretch its thespian chops while having an obvious good time in the process. Fortunately, their vocal skills are more than a match for Rossini’s usual compositional flamboyance, making this production a refreshing musical and comedic romp that can be savored by longtime opera fans as well as opera rookies searching for a painless point of entry.

Outstanding as Ory was tenor Javier Abreu. His high, supple lyric voice possesses great conviction, and his acting displays a great comic flair, including occasional double takes nearly as effortless as those made famous by John Cleese. Also possessing significant comedic talent was soprano Heidi Stober as the Comtesse. After several mimed suicide attempts, her melancholic young character gets to sing some of the opera’s most wonderful moments. Miss Stober sang her strenuous role with near perfection, save for a minor unaccompanied stumble near the opera’s close.

In the trouser role of Isolier, Ory’s devious young page who attempts to undermine the boss’s every attempt at seduction, mezzo Lauren McNeese was a comic delight, unveiling both an expressive voice and an ability to survive what seemed like at least a dozen spectacular pratfalls. Baritone Museop Kim uncorked a convincing baritone in the small but vocally significant role of Raimbaud, Ory’s sidekick. And bass-baritone Ryan McKinny excelled as Ory’s stodgy tutor, Gouverneur.

In lesser supporting roles, Faith Sherman, Ronnita Nicole Miller and Jason Ferrante rounded out the cast with gusto. And a hat tip as well to chorus master Eric Melear, who clearly prepared his enthusiastic choral singers well for their extended presence in this work. Good work also from conductor Robert Wood who led his forces with precision and never overshadowed his singers.

****

WHO: Wolf Trap Opera Company

WHAT: Rossini’s “Le Comte Ory”

WHERE: The Barns at Wolf Trap

WHEN: Friday at 8 p.m., Sunday at 2 p.m.

PRICE: $58

INFORMATION: Visit www.wolftrap.org, or call 1-877-WOLFTRAP

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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