Rossini’s joyous score for Le comte Ory, full of some of his best music in the comic-opera genre, was given a welcome outing here, and left one wondering why it is not seen on stages more often. Chelsea Opera had cast the major roles with voices of experience or huge potential, and the second Act in particular showed the troupe performing at a really high level. Toby Purser conducted a fine account of the score – perhaps there could have been a little more spring and delicacy to the occasionally rough-edged playing and a tad more flexibility to tempos. Most importantly, the players enjoyed themselves.
In the title role Mark Milhofer had all the requisite high notes, honeyed tone and exuberance of the thwarted philanderer knight, vocalising all the embellishments with ease and insouciance. Indeed, at times it was too easy and polished – surely half the fun is an element of danger. He was certainly adept at portraying character, too, although it was getting dangerously close to ‘pantomime dame’ at times. As Isolier, Heather Lowe impressed with her spinto-like high-mezzo voice, and allowed her contributions to ensembles to really register, particularly that which closes the first Act – which Rossini re-worked from Il viaggio a Reims. Her contribution to the trio that brings Ory to an end was super! Claire Booth was an excellent Countess Adèle too. Her singing was alert, beautiful and assured; her coloratura extremely precise.
How wonderful to re-encounter the wonderful Anne Mason as Ragonde. Her voice retains all its warm allure and fullness, and her French diction was spot on. She made one realise how important it is that the larger supporting roles are cast well. Steven Page was slightly surprising casting for the buffo bass role of Ory’s tutor but it worked well – Page’s gravelly lower register underpinned much of the ensemble. Benedict Nelson was a fine and characterful Raimbaud too, relishing his big Act Two aria about his journey through the wine-cellars. In the smaller roles Philip Salmon’s dead-pan sunglass-toting knight dressed up as a nun was as hilarious as his singing was effective. The Chorus needed a little more precision and attack, but all in all this was hugely enjoyable.