Rossini’s music for Le Comte Ory is often exquisite, but the humour is robust. The womanising Count Ory devises ways of seducing the beautiful Adèle while her brother is off at the Crusades. Famously, he and his henchmen embed themselves in her castle by disguising themselves as nuns.
Opera Alegría’s studio production transfers the action to the Second World War and a rural English world of Dig for Victory posters, hairnets and – in the case of Caroline Carragher’s formidably cut-glass Venetia Trumpington-Hewitt – painted-on stocking seams.
There are some beautifully judged comic moments – above all when Adèle (Naomi Kilby), Venetia and her goddaughter Alice (Fae Evelyn) are peeling carrots. Singing in angelic harmony, they gradually twig that the vegetables are reminding them that they need a man in their lives.
The action is tightly marshalled, and the entire cast is thoroughly in the case, but this is not an ideal opera for scrutiny at close quarters. Its logic is far from inexorable and the numbers – above all Act II’s gorgeous ‘three-in-a-bed’ extravaganza – are grandly conceived. With limited space and resources, there is only so much that can be done to fill the time.
Rossini’s demands on his singers are also considerable. Kilby spins lovely lines; Robert Jenkins’ Ory is tirelessly sparky; Matthew Duncan (Fanshawe) makes notably elegant use of the text; Alicia Gurney is charming, though hardly virile as the farmer Nathaniel, and Alistair Sutherland is resonantly energetic as Hopkins, who at least tries to be a decent fellow.
Lindsay Bramley, also the author of the sharp new translation, brings both poetry and vivacity to her musical direction from the piano.