I like a gal wearing fellows’ clothes and Giacomo Rossini, did too. He wrote a lot of “trouser roles”—when a female sings the part of a male in an opera—including the part of Isolier, page to the lecherous Count in The Wicked Adventures of Count Ory. Seattle Opera’s new production of Rossini’s final comic opera is about the fluidity of gender, how we often don’t look like who we are, the vicissitudes of lust, and the lengths people go to to get in the sack with someone.
The sets and costumes make this production. The first act takes place in a bright, garish Teletubby-ish landscape where the tops of the Crayola colored hills look like nipples.
Their men having gone off to fight in the Crusades of the Middle Ages, the women of a little French town, including the Countess Adele (the terrific soprano Sarah Coburn), consult with a recently arrived hermit about their loneliness.
The hermit looks like a late l960’s Indian guru complete with the bright orange satin robes, love beads, smarmy gestures and sexual hypocrisy that inspired John Lennon to write “Sexy Sadie” about the Maharashi Mahesh Yogi, in whom he once believed.
The hermit in Rossini’s story is just as pure, not being a hermit at all but lusty Count Ory in disguise. Isolier doesn’t recognize his boss when he goes to consult the hermit about his crush on Adele, but another member of Ory’s household does and he is busted.
Seattle Opera favorite (and former Seattle Opera Young Artist and Artist of the Year) tenor Lawrence Brownlee is hilarious as the Count, the hermit and the female Ory disguises himself as in Act II.
Isolier, sung by Polish mezzo-soprano Hanna Hipp, in her Seattle Opera debut, swaggers around in the black and red leather boots, fingerless gloves and a big shouldered jackets worn by the glam-metal bad boys Ory’s household. The women pining for their absent men sway their arms back and forth like hippie girls. They wear crowns of flowers in their hair, blousey dresses and Birkenstocks.
In the 2nd act, Count Ory and his lads, minus Isolier, disguise themselves as nuns and seek refuge in the castle of Adele and her lady friends. A wine cellar is raided and ridiculousness ensues. Isolier arrives and shortly thereafter either two women and a man, or two men and a woman, but one of the men is really a woman—three people, anyway—end up together in bed. No one gets righteous and no one gets angry or left out or hurt.
In this world, where time can slip forward and back through the centuries and gender is only as fixed as the clothes you wear, everyone ends up in harmony together.