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Review: Le Comte Ory

Le Comte Ory is a comedic opera written by French composer Rossini in the early 1800s. Originally set in the 13th century, NZ Opera has cleverly contemporised the story to present day Aotearoa.

The story begins at a remote train station in a mountain range which I surmise is somewhere in the Southern Alps. A steam train pulls up and huge number of smartly dressed women disembark. These glamorous ‘influencer’ looking gals are the WAGS of the nation’s premier rugby team. As their husbands and boyfriends are currently battling the Springboks overseas, the gals have taken a vow of chastity and all enter a wellness retreat appropriately named Chateau Whareora.

With their men away, the women fall under the lascivious eye of the infamous Count Ory (Manase Latu), the captain of a rival set of rugby players whose team uniforms look suspiciously like an international squad from across the Tasman Sea. He and some of his teammates have absconded from training and set themselves up as religious sect right next to the chateau and, with Ory as a fake guru, convinces the hapless locals he can grant all of their wishes.

Of course, in true operatic style, there are intertwined love stories and plenty of intrigue which makes this opera feel a little bit like an upmarket version of a reality TV show such as Love Island.

So here is the lowdown on the relationships. Ory is a self-described ladies man who clearly didn’t get the #metoo memo. He will hit on any woman at any time and has absolutely no scruples.

He sets his sights on Countess Adèle (Emma Pearson), the sister of the chateau’s owner and chief WAG. What Ory doesn’t know is that Adèle likes girls and is in love with his physiotherapist Isolier (Hanna Hipp) but has vowed the relationship cannot be. Isolier meanwhile is determined to make it with Adèle and turns up at the retreat to woo her. 

Helping Ory with his clumsy attempts at romance is his quirky side kick Raimbaud (Moses Mackay), while Adèle is aided by the faithful but equally lovelorn Ragonde (Andrea Creighton). Meanwhile Ory is pursued by his Team Coach (Wade Kernot) who is determined to get him back to much needed practice. 

All of this means Le Comte Ory is full of comedic moments which the production exploits delightfully. This includes the sur titles which deliver an, shall we say, irreverent and hilarious translation of the French libretto and are sprinkled with local idiom such as ‘rattle your dags’ and ‘bro’, a great many modern sexual references and innuendo, and even at one stage a conversation peppered with emojis. 

The cast manages to add comedic elements to their performances without it becoming farcical. Emma Pearson for instance delivers some gently and humorous manic moments, and I cannot forget Moses Mackay self-flagellating with a carrot while pretending to be the guru’s faithful assistant. 

The score in Le Comte Ory, while lovely and lively, has no stand-out arias for me, but each musical piece is so expertly played by the Auckland Philharmonia and sung so beautifully by the entire cast that one doesn’t really notice. 

NZ Opera always manages to create sets and costuming that compliment its interpretation of its operas, and with this one, I take my hat off to the design and lighting team. Tracy Grant Lord has conceived a gorgeously lush set which is enhanced by the dynamic lighting design of Matthew Marshall.  

All up then, Le Comte Ory delivers a wonderful night’s experience replete with plot twists, cross dressing, ribald humour, and of course, delightful singing and music. 

Picture credit – Andi Crown

LE COMTE ORY

30 May – 1 June 2024 – Auckland

13 & 15 June 2024 – Wellington

27 & 29 June 2024 – Christchurch

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