"Before the bisexual threesome, the kick line of cross-dressed nuns, the near-naked game of Twister, and the yogurt feast, LoftOpera's production of Rossini's riotous "Le Comte Ory" begins with a relative whisper.
Rossini's overture is the work of a composer with a sly poker face. Restrained and short, it ends with quietly, with some demure plucks in the strings. It's a sign of this young company's skill that its orchestra, led on this occasion by Sean Kelly, is as persuasive in the score's subtle moments as in its slapstick ones.
That slapstick is hardly stunted. The production at the packed-to-the-gills Muse warehouse in Bushwick, Brooklyn, makes much hilarity, for one thing, of men scrambling for pink nun habits.
But the polish and panache of the staging, directed by John de los Santos, keep the farce from ever seeming amateurish. It's a perfect union of New York's most raucous and delightful opera company with one of the most raucous and delightful works in the repertory, a salacious at libidos run amok in the home front during the Crusades.
If the city's audiences know "Comte Ory" it's likely from a Metropolitan Opera production that opened in 2011. The high spirits in that Bartlett Sher staging often seemed forced, but in Bushwick the simplicity and immediacy of the presentation (seen last Saturday) make the jokes and gags land without thudding.
This modern-dress vision of the work could hardly be pared down further: some creaky platforms, more or less, a bench; and, for the sensationally sensual second-act trio, a four-poster bed. But for all the efficient bareness of the setting, the show has a brightly colored, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink exuberance. Before the overture, aerialists dressed in yet more nun habits twirl high above the audience, a reminder that this space spends much of its time as a circus school.
But never does it seem as if the company is mugging; the director and performers have created characters, not clowns. The climactic three-way, one of Rossini's most inspired, shape-shifting ensembles, with lines tumbling over one another like lovers-throws off genuine sparks. This is less because everyone's stripped down to underwear, than because the irresistible music is executed with such stylistic confidence."
THE WALL STREET JOURNAL:
"... the wildest opera event in New York this month was surely LoftOpera’s rendition of Rossini’s “Le Comte Ory.” Staged in a vast, barn-like circus school in Bushwick, Brooklyn, and featuring two aerialists dressed as nuns as a pre-show entertainment, the production boasted some terrific singing...
The hilarious production—directed by John de los Santos and including a chorus of drunken, Twister-playing men wearing pink nuns’ habits (Ashley Soliman did the wacky contemporary costumes)—was perfect for this completely silly opera. Most stagings fudge the pièce de résistance, an erotic threesome among the principal characters, but this one was no holds barred and brilliant.
NEW YORK OBSERVER:
"...if you're looking for opera as pure fun, there's only one place to go: LoftOpera, currently in Bushwick, offers a raunchily delightful take on Rossini's comic masterpiece, Le Comte Ory.
This presentation highlights the qualities that have in only three years catapulted the company to the front ranks of NYC's opera troupes: ambitious musical values, scrappy but always inventive production style and, above all, an effortless sense of hipness-in the very best sense of that often-maligned term-in audience and performers alike.
Though the original libretto sets the action in the Middle Ages, with the menfolk of the village off fighting the in the Crusades, John de los Santos effortlessly resets the piece in a more or less modern milieu. (After all, nothing is more timeless than sex and war, right?) The Count held his prayer services sporting a shocking pink business suit hand-painted like the medieval Tres Riches Heures Du Duc De Berry with the Countess in a mob wife's skintight black lace dress and spike heels.
Sets were minimal, but what went on in front of them was extravagantly funny. During one chorus, Ory slyly crossed behind a line of kneeling damsels, indicating a thumbs up or thumbs down which he preferred. After the band of "nuns" ransacked the castle's wine cellar, they broke into a hairy-legged can-can with two of the hunkier henchmen stripping down for an X-rated game of Twister."
"LoftOpera concluded it's season with a delightful production of Gioachino Rossini’s Le Comte Ory (seen June 4) in The Muse, a theatrical space in Brooklyn’s Bushwick neighborhood.
While Le Comte Ory has fine arias, its great strength is in its duets, trios and ensemble numbers, particularly those in Act II. The three principals had a wonderful rapport in these numbers, particularly in the climactic orgy scene and its build-up.
John de los Santos directed with great cleverness and humor, honoring the past while deftly adding contemporary touches. He accomplished great things with minimal physical resources and with this excellent cast."
"(LoftOpera's) recent run of Le Comte Ory was perhaps the most ambitious of all, and it worked magnificently. The 31-member orchestra was conducted by Loft’s excellent music director Sean Kelly and the production was wonderfully directed by John de los Santos. Loft played the comedy seriously, which is the best way to mine its humor and get more laughs."
"...Loft offered an unusually satisfying, immensely entertaining production of Rossini's scintillating portrait of an inveterate seducer.
Director John de los Santos' energetically appealing updated production happily eschewed over-the-top broad comedy and allowed (Thorsteinn) Arbjornsson to soften Ory's predatory behavior by gently beguiling the smitten ladies of the chorus.
...de los Santos' wryly raunchy staging of Adele, Isolier, and Ory cavorting in the darkened bedroom was the evening's inevitably delicious point. Its three performers sang soulfully while carousing with sweaty delight. It was even more fun than the earlier drunken saturnalia of Ory's course male cohorts, also fetchingly garbed in pink nun's habits. A hilarious bout of half-naked Twister followed by an enthusiastic kick-line of hairy, stomping religieuses brought the house down.
All these delights...made Loft's Comte Ory one of the season's most delectable evenings..."
...for all those new-opera fanatics who think that the 19th century doesn't have anything to say to a Millennials--LoftOpera brought a whopper of a production of Rossini's last comedy to Brooklyn's Muse venue in Bushwick, which was filled with Millennials as well as perennials.
Taking the "acrobatics" usually ascribed to Rossini's brand of vocalism to heart, LoftOpera's production was performed in a warehouse that usually serves as a circus school--and it was an inventive choice. With a set reconfigured between the acts, nuns performing acrobatics on silken ladders, a well-rehearsed orchestra, and a game cast of expert farceurs and belcantonisti (under the inventive eye of director John de los Santos and costumed by Ashley Soliman), ORY flew through the air with the greatest of ease.
Anyone who has ever doubted LE COMTE ORY's place in the Rossini canon needed only to attend LoftOpera's rendition.
ALLEGRI CON FUOCO:
Le Comte Ory is an extremely ambitious project for an indie company. Theatrically, it’s an irreverent, borderline slapstick comedy which is way more difficult than a tragedy to stage effectively. Musically, you need stellar soloists capable of incredible bel canto acrobatics, a tight orchestra versed in Rossini’s quickfire style and a pretty big chorus that plays a central role in various scenes. LoftOpera took on the challenge, gambled and won – again – big time.
If one was catching the show for the first time, one may think that this indie company (free beers!) somehow updated a 1828 Italo-French opera to make it racier (threesome!), more irreverent (intoxicated dancing nuns) and provocative (spiritual guru gets paid with sex). But, actually, aside from the addition of cell phones, selfies and Yoplait, the production directed by John de los Santos was otherwise by the book. There was no regietheatre here, still, the show felt like a raucous avant-garde piece. The backdrop of an exposed brick circus school in Bushwick, steamy temperatures and the loft party vibe just enhanced Rossini’s original irreverence in the most perfect way. It is a testament to the composer and his librettist that this material is so fresh and has remained so racy even by today’s standards. There is no need to take it out of its original context. No updating is necessary in order to make it uproariously accessible to a contemporary audience. This is the beauty of LoftOpera’s mission: bring the classics to new audiences in the kind of setting in which years ago I would otherwise found myself in a warehouse party or indie rock concert. It’s like the scene is all grown up, in a way.