Count Ory – Arcola Theatre, London

Musical Director and Translation: Lindsay Bramley

Artistic Director: Benjamin Newhouse-Smith 

Reviewer: Karl O’Doherty

Considering the eponymous hero of our story, the Count himself, the main question is whether he is actually a cad, or a bounder. That an audience will like him almost immediately is beyond doubt, as is the issue of liking the whole of this glorious, silly, musically excellent production. But figuring out his motives and his core personality could add a layer of meaning and nuance to a whirlwind performance that means even more pleasure is extracted from the evening.

The Count is staying at his ancestral home of Hurlingham Estate during the second world war. Trapped there for a spell, he seeks diversion and alongside his friend Fanshawe, the mildly-injured airman, creates mischief where he can, with the ultimate aim of seducing Adele, the beautiful daughter of the house. Alongside him are a motley cast of clumsy home-guard soldiers, WI members, other military folk and a farmer. Will his quest for entertainment and love be successful?

A cad may approach this with cynicism, exploiting gullibility and the loneliness the women feel while the men are at war. Then perhaps a bounder may have more noble intentions though the aim of seduction remains the same. Convincing his male mates to run around in nuns’ habits so he can sneak into Adele’s bedroom while they get drunk feels like the latter. And also produces some extremely funny moments of comedy. Tempering the laughs with some serious notes on the impact of air raids, constant war, loss and deprivation creates a rare beast – a well balanced romp, a farce with depths.

Rossini’s music is provided via a lone piano, but rendered full and almost voluptuous by the assembled cast. Naomi Kilby’s soprano voice as Adele is crystalline, and the bounce and verve of Robert Jenkins as Count Ory, or Matthew Duncan as his co-conspirator Fanshawe, brings entertainment and enjoyment through some very technical passages. Clear diction is crucial to an opera without surtitles – something recognised and prioritised here so even in complex multi-voice passages there’s clarity and accessibility in the lyrics.

A simple stage puts the focus back on the performers, some crates, some carrots for a splash of innuendo, appropriate costuming and a bed for any shenanigans that may happen are really all there is. Some operas, especially on a small scale (though the big productions are by no means immune) can produce great music but are marred by poor acting. Here, they’ve neatly avoided that trap by having a superb cast, a fast flowing production where energy and farce are rewarded and creating a story rather than a show. A real pity it’s got such a short run, but this first full opera from a young company is a bright jewel in an already glittering season of Grimeborn at the Arcola.

Runs until 17 August 2019 | Image: Contributed


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