Music: It may be on the South Downs, but spare us the horseplay

When the curtain comes down it usually means the show is over. But not on the opening night of Glyndebourne's new Le Comte Ory, when the director, Jerome Savary, made it an occasion for the most grotesquely self-satisfied display of exuberant luvvery I've ever writhed through in an opera house. He hugged the cast. He kissed them. He proposed to them on bended knee. He all but cartwheeled round the stage. No, we would not leave - for Savary was having a good time, and wanted us to know it.

I just wish I could have shared his delight in a production that seemed to please the audience (especially post- picnic) but struck me as a pretty feeble response to the vitality and (genuine) fun of a piece that doesn't surface much these days but played a major part in Glyndebourne's history. Back in 1954 the company staged a famous production under the conductor Vittorio Gui which played at Edinburgh and was preserved on a recording that remains, albeit in mono, the best around. It sets a fearsome standard; and maybe that's why Glyndebourne has kept away from the piece for so long, even though Ory is perfect material for a South Downs summer evening.

Frothy, feisty, radiant with charm, it was the last of Rossini's comedies, written for Paris in the 1820s. And while it doesn't quite shine with the brilliance of Il Barbiere di Siviglia, it's a clever score with a machinery that operates on a grand scale, extending ideas through long, complex ensembles and playing every trick in the composer's book - from accumulative crescedi to false finales - with unflagging spirit. But it's also a piece that makes the particular stylistic demands of a hybrid.

Roughly half its music was excavated from an earlier score, Il Viaggio a Reims. Its comic temperament is part-Italian opera buffa, part French opera comique, treading a fine line between vaudeville and irony. And though the story isn't subtle - Act I: an attempted assault on the virtue of a castleful of women while their menfolk are away at the Crusades. Act II: another attempted assault on the same castleful of women - Rossini's music elevates potential slapstick into pure craft. Because Count Ory (a rake) spends most of the opera in disguise and half of it dressed as a nun he comes complete with musical calling cards (resounding top Cs and a little signature tune) to keep the audience in touch with who he actually is. And in Act II there's a bizarre, gender-bending bed scene where Ory (still the nun) thinks he's making love to the Comtesse Adele but is actually coming on strong to his page-boy Isolier (sung by a woman), who is up to no good with Adele himself (herself). Confused? Well, you're entitled to be: but somehow Rossini's score sorts it all out in a trio of ravishing beauty that could be Berlioz had Berlioz got round to such things in 1828.

So here we are, a fascinating and enchanting piece, perfect for Glyndebourne - and it gets the sort of staging that would barely credit Wexford in an off year. The movement is clumsy, the jokes are poor, the business repetitive. You get one gag about pulling off Count Ory's left boot (not especially funny), then you get it again with the right (not funny at all). On comes a pantomime horse, briefly and pointlessly. Then a while later, on it comes again. Ditto.

It's not that I'm against horseplay: in something like Ory it's to be expected. But so is a degree of imagination, of sharp-minded invention; and Savary (working in Britain for the first time after a long, perhaps too long career in Europe) doesn't provide it. Glyndebourne would have been better served by someone like Richard Jones, who would have crazed things up but with some bite.

Musically the first night was a touch uncertain. Andrew Davis conducted with ever-smiling vigour, and most of the cast had the vocal idiom in their blood. There was an inspiring British debut from the French soprano Annick Massis, whose secure, soaring Adele was one thing that made this Ory worth struggling through the South London traffic for. But the promised tenor, Tracey Welborn, had withdrawn from the production, and replacement Marc Laho was disappointing: pleasant in that narrow-focused, slightly bleating French way, but unsettled technically. Ory demands a light but characterful fluency, with ringing top notes and a clean-cut coloratura. Laho struggled. It was effortful. And though the second act felt easier, it didn't compensate.

Rossini's massive international success during the early 19th century was one of the reasons why the operatic career of Franz Schubert barely got off the ground. No one in Vienna wanted to hear the German singspiels he produced in quantity during the 1810s and 20s. In the circumstances it's remarkable that he persisted and, in 1823, completed his eighth opera: another singspiel called Die Verschworenen (The Conspirators), whose comic story of a battle between the sexes in Crusader times oddly prefigures what Rossini would be writing a few years later. It was never done in Schubert's life and remains a rare work. But last weekend it surfaced in concert at The Proms and reminded me of another reason (nothing to do with Rossini) why the composer's attempts at opera failed. He had no theatre sense.

In fairness I should say that some Schubert scholars would disagree; and one of the most distinguished, Brian Newbould, pleads for Die Verschworenen as something with variety of pace and lively momentum. But personally I don't find that; and the "consistency and homogeneity" which Newbould praises seems to me one of the opera's chief problems. All the elements fit together with too seamless and smooth a continuity to allow any real sense of dramatic contour: of rise and fall, tension and release. My ear longs for the score to jolt, to stop short, to surprise me. And it doesn't.

It follows that this is a piece I'd never want to see on stage. But in concert it's a gentle, undemanding joy, and this performance by the Orchestra and Choir of the Age of Enlightenment under Nicholas McGeegan was immaculate. Done without the spoken text (no loss), it had spirit, charm, and well- judged soloists in Hillevi Martinpelto and Judith Howarth. A good case for the score, so far as you can take it.

Rossini was also presumably the reason why Andrew Davis wasn't at the Albert Hall to conduct his own BBC Symphony Orchestra for the Proms' opening night. Instead it was Bernard Haitink, whose first intentions with Beethoven's Missa Solemnis - the sole work on the programme - seemed patrician, heavy. But if ever a performance flowered in mid-course, this was it. And it flowered with a vengeance, into a dynamic and compelling performance with precise but unpedantic playing, flawless solo entries, and a sense of overall structure (always Haitink's strong point) as clear-sighted as it was controlled. The chorus discipline was stunning, with impeccable attack as sharp as a machete. And the whole thing sent me to the record catalogue to check whether Haitink had ever committed the Missa to disc. He hasn't. He should.

'Le Comte Ory': Glyndebourne (01273 813813), tonight, Wed, Fri & in rep to 23 Aug.

Life and Style
“What is it like being a girl?” was the question on the lips of one inquisitive Reddit user this week
News
peopleDave Legeno, the actor who played werewolf Fenrir Greyback in the Harry Potter films, has died
Arts and Entertainment
Armando Iannucci, the creator of 'The Thick of It' says he has
tvArmando Iannucci to concentrate on US show Veep
Life and Style
beauty
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Sport
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
transfers
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

Sport
German supporters (left) and Argentina fans
world cup 2014Final gives England fans a choice between to old enemies
Arts and Entertainment
A still from the worldwide Dawn of the Planet of the Apes trailer debut
film
News
peopleMario Balotelli poses with 'shotgun' in controversial Instagram pic
News
A mugshot of Ian Watkins released by South Wales Police following his guilty pleas
peopleBandmates open up about abuse
Sport
Basketball superstar LeBron James gets into his stride for the Cleveland Cavaliers
sportNBA superstar announces decision to return to Cleveland Cavaliers
Sport
Javier Mascherano of Argentina tackles Arjen Robben of the Netherlands as he attempts a shot
world cup 2014
Arts and Entertainment
The successful ITV drama Broadchurch starring David Tenant and Olivia Coleman came to an end tonight
tv
Sport
Four ski officials in Slovenia have been suspended following allegations of results rigging
sportFour Slovenian officials suspended after allegations they helped violinist get slalom place
News
14 March 2011: George Clooney testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during a hearing titled 'Sudan and South Sudan: Independence and Insecurity.' Clooney is co-founder of the Satellite Sentinel Project which uses private satellites to collect evidence of crimes against civilian populations in Sudan
people
Arts and Entertainment
Balaban is indirectly responsible for the existence of Downton Abbey, having first discovered Julian Fellowes' talents as a screenwriter
tvCast members told to lose weight after snacking on set
Life and Style
More than half of young adults have engaged in 'unwanted but consensual sexting with a committed partner,' according to research
tech
Life and Style
A binge is classed as four or more alcoholic drinks for women and five or more for men, consumed over a roughly two-hour period
tech
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    JavaScript Developer (Angular, Web Forms, HTML5, Ext JS,CSS3)

    £40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: JavaScript Dev...

    BC2

    £50000 - £70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Business Analyst Consultant (Fina...

    SAP Data Migration Consultant

    competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client, a FTSE 100 organisation are u...

    Programme Support, Coms, Bristol, £300-350p/d

    £300 - £350 per day + competitive: Orgtel: My client, a leading bank, is curre...

    Day In a Page

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
    Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

    A writer spends a night on the streets

    Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
    Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
    Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

    Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

    Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
    Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

    Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

    This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
    Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

    Why did we stop eating whelks?

    Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
    10 best women's sunglasses

    In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

    From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
    Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    The German people demand an end to the fighting
    New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

    New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

    For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
    Can scientists save the world's sea life from

    Can scientists save our sea life?

    By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
    Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

    Richard III review

    Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice