A Musical Changeling: Rossini's 'Le Comte Ory'

WOO-1413-Ory-250Versatility has long been a hallmark among great theatrical composers, in genres as varied as animated film and comic opera.

In the film world, consider Randy Newman. He's won two Academy Awards for Best Original Song. The most recent was for "We Belong Together," the 2010 winner, from Toy Story Eight years earlier, Newman won for "If I Didn't Have You," sung by John Goodman and Billy Crystal in Monsters, Inc.

Judging from those examples, it would be easy to assume that Newman is a sort of "niche artist" -- a specialist in music for animated movies. Actually, he's far from it. His extensive film resume also includes the soaring score for the iconic baseball movie The Natural, along with music for the inspirational tearjerker Seabiscuit, the sentimental Barry Levinson hit Avalon and the irreverent comedy Meet the Fockers -- making Newman one of Hollywood's most versatile composers.

Newman is also a modern heir to the longstanding tradition of theatrical musicians whose genius has seemingly unlimited dramatic scope.

Gioachino Rossini spent much of his creative life in Italy, where he became one of Europe's most famous composers with works including some of history's funniest operas, such as The Barber of Seville, and La Cenerentola -- successes that might well have led him to specialize in comedy. Yet he also scored hits with deadly serious dramas, including Otello, Semiramide and Tancredi.

For the final portion of his operatic career, Rossini moved from Italy to France, and despite the challenges of pleasing a new and very different audience, his range continued to be remarkable. And when it comes to versatility, Rossini outdid even himself with a pair of operas he wrote in Paris, barely three years apart, in the 1820s -- two distinct and contrasting operas that each rely heavily on the very same music!

The last opera Rossini wrote in Italian, and his first opera for France, was the extravagant occasional piece "The Voyage to Rheims," written for the coronation of King Charles X. The opera was a considerable success, but the composer worried that the story might not translate well to the regular repertory -- and he didn't want the score to go to waste.  So he took its music, adapted it, and created a brand new opera, Le Comte Ory. If anything, that one became an even bigger hit.

In Le Comte Ory, as in all his operas for Paris, Rossini went out of his way to accommodate French sensibilities and traditions. But he also held on to many elements of the Italian style that had made him famous in the first place. The result is a piece that's hard to categorize, but easy to enjoy -- and an opera now regarded as one of Rossini's wittiest and most elegant comedies.

On World of Opera, host Lisa Simeone presents Le Comte Ory from the Lyon Opera in France. The stars are tenor Dmitry Korchak as the devious Count Ory and soprano Désirée Rancatore as Adele, the object of the Count's lascivious schemes, along with mezzo-soprano Antoinette Dennefeld as Isolier, the clever page whose insights leave Ory running for his life. The production is led by conductor Stefano Montanari.