Le comte Ory – criticism


By Gioachino Rossini

Opera in 2 acts.

Libretto : Eugène Scribe and C.G. Delestre-Poirson, after Scribe’s 1816 vaudeville.

First performed: Théâtre de l’Opéra (salle Le Peletier), 20 August 1828.

For more information about the opera, see the dossier.


Félix Clément, Dictionnaire des opéras, 1869 :

The libretto was a new arrangement of a piece that Scribe and Poirson gave at the théâtre du Vadueville in 1816.  The music was in large part composed for an occasional opera in honour of Charles X’s coronation, entitled Il Viaggio a Reims.  That work, performed at the Opéra italien in the summer of 1825, featured Mmes Pasta, Cinti-Damoreau and MM. Bordogni, Pellegrini and Levasseur.  Be that as it may, and in spite of the necessary rearrangements to the libretto and the score, le Comte Ory rightly passes for one of Rossini’s best operas.  Among the pieces expressly composed for the French opera, we will mention the beautiful bass aria Veiller sans cesse, whose accompaniment is rhythmic in a new and pungent way; the knights’ chorus, Ah! la bonne folie; the drinkers’ chorus, Qu’il avait de bon vin, le seigneur châtelain, which is a masterpiece; and the trio: A la faveur de cette nuit obscure.  All the rest of this work offers delightful melodies.  The cavatina in the first act, Que les destins prospères, is entirely Italian, in the composer’s first manner.  The prayer, Noble châtelaine, is of a delicious harmony and rhythm.  Nowhere, perhaps, has the composer shown more wit, or varied his efforts more than in the instrumentation of the Comte Ory.  Adolphe Nourrit, Mme Damoreau and Levasseur were the most applauded interpreters of this rich score.

Hector Berlioz, Feuilleton du Journal des Débats (28 May 1839) :

Le Comte Ory is certainly one of Rossini’s best scores.  Never, perhaps, in any other opera except the Barber, has he given so free a rein to his brilliant verve and his mocking wit.  This opera contains very few feeble, or at least criticable, passages, especially compared to the multitude of charming pieces.  The instrumental introduction, which serves as an opening, is generally singular, or rather grotesque; if it were not that the author introduced and brought back several times the theme of Comte Ory with as much skill and brilliance, one would think of it as a sort of musical farce.  One hardly sees what these shudderings and mewings from the violincello, slowing and weakening like a dying man’s last breaths, mean.  It can only be a joke on the part of the author who, on the day that he wrote it, laughed a little at his art and his public.  Apart from this momentary caprice, the rest of the work was obviously composed with love.  Everywhere there is a luxury of happy melodies, new designs, accompaniments, sought-after harmonies, piquant orchestral effects, and dramatic intentions as full of reason as wit.  All one can say about truthful expression is that it’s missing from the first aria: “Que les destins prospères”.  This graceful cavatina, swiftly moving and lightly vocalised, obviously contrasts with the monk’s costume worn by Count Ory.  Since the harum-scarum young man has covered his head with a black hood and his chin with a long grey beard, because he pretends to walk heavily, in the broken gait of an old hermit, he should also, it seems to me, disguise his voice and his style of singing.  Here and there, too, we find prosodic errors and shocking interruptions in words which cannot be split up, as in the finale of the first act, where the Count stops the first part of his phrase on the words: “Et du destin”, is silent for three or four measures, and then continues, to finish his phrase with the words “Braver les coups”.  The fault is certainly not the composer’s.  We know that this number and others in the work were written on an Italian libretto, Il Viaggio a Reims; the translator is to blame.  In any case, the musician should have watched his work, and not allowed him to take such liberties.  But what compensations for these blotches!  What musical riches in these two acts!  The duet between the page Isolier and the hermit, the tutor’s aria, the unaccompanied ensemble, magnificent andante from a vocal symphony, the finale’s stretta Venez, amis, and in the second act, the women’s chorus, Dans ce séjour; the prayer, Noble châtelaine so skillfully mingled with the noise of the storm, the orgy, the duet, J’entends d’ici le bruit des armes, with its big, energetic principal theme; and finally that marvelous trio, A la faveur de cette nuit obscure, in my opinion, Rossini’s masterpiece.  These form a collection of diverse beauties which, adroitly distributed, would suffice for the success of two or three operas.  Nevertheless, and I probably don’t need to say it, the famous Italian final cadence, which is reproduced thirty or forty times in the two acts of Comte Ory, is more than ever one of the most accomplished things to madden an attentive listener.  O the stupid, insipid formula!  When shall we be delivered from it?  Many people laugh at it; I do too, sometimes; but in that case I must be in a good mood.