A Musical Changeling: Rossini's 'Le Comte Ory'
The opera takes place in and around a 13th-century French castle. As ACT ONE begins, the men of the castle have joined the crusades, and gone off to battle, leaving the women alone. Seeing an opening, the notorious Count Ory has his eye on the Countess of the castle, Adele.
Ory disguises himself as a hermit, and sets up shop in the local village. He's passing himself off as a wise eccentric, and dispensing advice on affairs of the heart. When the Countess herself turns up, seeking counsel, Count Ory finds himself in exactly the position he'd been hoping for. The beautiful Countess wants his advice her love life, in which Ory is eager to participate.
Things get complicated when Ory's tutor arrives, along with his page, Isolier. The young page is truly in love with Adele. At first, he doesn't recognize his boss, the Count, in his hermit outfit. So, Isolier tells Ory about his own plan: He's going to worm his way into Adele's home, disguised as a female pilgrim. Ory decides that Isolier's cross-dressing strategy sounds like a pretty good idea -- good enough to use it himself. But before long, Isolier does recognize Ory, and a suspicious Adele retreats to the presumed safety of her castle.
In ACT TWO, the women are outraged at Ory's attempt to deceive them. But, while they're on their guard, there's an even more outlandish deception yet to come.
A storm rises, and the women hear desperate voices from outside the castle walls. It's a group of nuns, pilgrims to the holy land, hoping to escape the foul weather. They're invited inside. The "Mother Superior" is grateful to the Countess for her hospitality, and she offers her undying gratitude. But "she" isn't a "she" at all. It's Count Ory, this time disguised as "Sister Colette," and again hoping to have his way with Adele. The other "nuns" are actually Ory's men -- also eager for a little action.
At first, the plan seems to be going well. The "pilgrims" are all welcomed, and ushered to their quarters. Soon, they discover the wine cellar. That results in a wild scene: A bunch of drunken men, whooping it up in the wine cellar, while dressed as nuns! But the merriment doesn't last long. The page, Isolier, shows up again and tells Adele exactly what's going on.
Ory, however, doesn't realize that his jig is up. So he slips into Adele's room and tries his charms. In the dark, Adele hides behind Isolier. So when Ory goes into his routine, he's actually romancing his own page -- in a delicate trio that's one of Rossini's finest numbers. Before long, trumpets blare, announcing the return of the crusaders -- including Adele's heavily-armed husband -- and a frustrated Count Ory is soon running for his life as the opera ends.