Le Comte Ory, opéra en deux to a libretto by Eugène Scribe and Charles-Gaspard Delestre-Poirson, was first performed at Théâtre de l’Académie Royale de Musique, Paris, on 20th August 1828.
The singers in the first performances were Adolphe Nourrit (Comte Ory), Laure Cinti-Damoreau (Comtesse de Formoutiers), Costance Jawureck (Isolier), Mori (Ragonde), Nicholas-Prosper Levasseur (Le Gouverneur), Henri-Bernard Dabadie (Raimbaud).
Against the background of the Chateau de Formoutiers, in the Touraine, Raimbaud, a gentleman and friend of Count Ory, has disguised himself as the servant of a hermit who has come to live in the hermitage nearby, and begs the country girl Alice and other rustics who have come with her to offer money and gifts to the hermit, whose powers of healing and prophecy he extols.
This hermit is none other than Count Ory himself, an inveterate libertine, who has disguised himself in this way in the hopes of approaching the Countess of Formoutiers, who has locked herself up in her chateau with her ladies in chaste expectation of the return of the Count, her brother, and the other knights from the crusades in Palestine.
Ragonde, the castle housekeeper, comes on to arrange a consultation with the hermit for the Countess, who is suffering from melancholia and wishes to ask the venerable sage’s advice. The hermit eagerly accepts an appointment alone with the lady in his humble dwelling.
Ory now retires into his hermitage, followed by several young girls, and Ragonde goes back to the castle.
Now Isolier, Ory’s page, comes in accompanied by the Count’s tutor. Isolier is secretly in love with the Countess of Formoutiers, his cousin, and he has led Ory’s tutor beneath the walls of the manor, leaving their escort nearby, in the hopes of seeing her again.
The Count’s tutor, who has been sent by the Duke, Ory’s father, in search of his son whom he suspects has run away from home in the pursuit of one of his endless amorous adventures, reflects on the delicate and dangerous nature of his employment.
Observing the young country girls pouring out of the holy man’s hermitage, the tutor asks himself if Count Ory is not perhaps in the neighbourhood. His suspicions are confirmed when he hears that the hermit arrived in those parts on the very day that Ory disappeared from home. Therefore he asks Alice where the hermit is to be found, and she informs him that before long he will come along to meet the Countess. This news leaves Isolier trembling with emotion, while the tutor goes off to find his entourage to organize a stopover and perhaps prove that his suspicions were all too correct.
Isolier visits the hermit, who is stupefied to recognize his own page, come to take advantage of his supposed gift for reading the future. Surprized, Isolier offers him money to help him persuade the Countess of Formoutiers to renounce her vows of chastity. In their forthcoming interview, the hermit must persuade her that her sufferings will end only if she yields to the embraces of Isolier.
In this way Ory comes to realize that he has a rival in his own page, who intends to get into the chateau, where no men are allowed, dressed as a female pilgrim.
When the Countess now comes on she is amazed to discover Isolier on the spot. She begs the hermit to help her recover her lost peace of mind. Urged on by Isolier, the supposed hermit prescribes that she give herself up completely to love and he dispenses her from her vows of chastity. Whilst he accompanies the lady to her chateau, however, he whispers to her that she must be on her guard against the wily Isolier, page to the fearsome Count Ory. The Countess, who for a moment had been exulting in the idea that at last she might be allowed to yield to her amorous feelings for Isolier, invites the hermit to be her guest, thanking him for having preserved her from such a fatal mistake. At the threshold of the chateau Ory, secretly delighted at the way things are going, mocks the tricked Isolier with a furtive gesture; however, all his plans are thwarted by the arrival of his tutor and his knights, who infuriate him by revealing his true identity to the amazed bystanders.
Now the tutor gives Ory a letter from his father inviting him to return home as soon as possible to help prepare the celebrations for the return of the brave crusaders on the following day. The ladies, delighted at the idea of embracing their husbands once more, bid the Count farewell, maliciously wishing him better luck next time. Ory, however, does not give up hope, and starts to plan a “sweet revenge” to be put into action during the one remaining day. For his part, Isolier decides to discover and unmask his rival’s plot.
The curtain rises on a gothic hall, adjacent to the Countess’s bedroom, where the Countess herself, Ragonde and the other ladies are gathered, intent upon ladylike occupations.
The Countess and Ragonde consider the danger they have escaped, happy in the idea that the strong castle walls protect them from the treacherous Ory. A storm bursts and the Countess sympathizes with the lady pilgrims who have no place to shelter from the rage of the elements. Just then, from beneath her windows, a chorus of voices imploring shelter is heard. Ragonde, who goes out to see who it is asking their hospitality, discovers to her horror that it is a group of lady pilgrims who are being chased by the infamous Count Ory. The Countess generously offers to shelter them for the night. When she asks how many they are and what they look like, she is told that they are fourteen in number, all about forty years old and hideously ugly. One of them asks to be allowed to thank her hostess and approaches the Countess, who asks to be left alone with the pilgrim.
Beneath his disguise Ory preserves a timid and respectful behaviour, but his ambiguous words of thanks disconcert the lady, who finds some of her guest’s expressions rather forward. The supposed pilgrim, in fact, tries to enthusiastically kiss the Countess’s hand, but the lady attributes her guest’s excitement to her narrow escape from danger. At last the other pilgrims come in and the Countess gives orders for refreshments of milk and fruit to be served. When Ory and his companions are left to themselves they rejoice in the excitement of their adventure: the tutor himself has got mixed up in it and the Count tells him that it was none other than his rival Isolier who suggested their dressing up as pious ladies. Meanwhile Raimbaud, to enliven their frugal meal, has captured some bottles of wine from the chateau cellars. Ory and his knights burst into song in praise of the joys of wine and love, songs that turn into muttered prayers every time that Ragonde, who has become suspicious of the strange behaviour of the supposed pilgrims, looks in to check what they are doing. At the end the Countess comes in, gives lighted candles to her guests and, after admiring their pious praying, gives the order for everyone to retire for the night.
In her room, while she is preparing to retire for the night, the Countess hears a bell ring: it is Isolier, who has been ordered by the Duke to tell all the ladies in the chateau that at midnight their husbands, who are already in the neighbourhood of Formoutiers, will come to visit their wives in secret. To be sure, this warning of their wives a little in advance is a tactful measure that might well avoid some unwelcome surprises. Ragonde is overjoyed at the message, saying that she wants to tell the good news to their distressed guests, but Isolier, on hearing that these are a little band of lady pilgrims, exclaims, stupefied, that it is none other than Count Ory and his companions that the ladies have invited into their chateau.
All the ladies rush off in panic, whilst the Countess, hearing noises, realizes that the Count is about to come in. So Isolier blows the candle out and, draping the veil that the Countess has dropped around himself, lies down on the couch and waves to the Countess to come and stand nearby. Taking advantage of the cover of darkness, Ory tiptoes into the room in a state of great excitement. He draws near to the couch and the Countess tremblingly answers him. Ory takes her hand, little knowing that it is really the hand of his page. Isolier, highly amused, urges the Countess to let Ory continue in his little mistake. Ory declares his love to the lady, but in the general confusion he finds himself embracing his own page. Now, however, trumpet blasts announce the arrival of the knights, and the ladies burst into the chamber carrying lighted candlesticks. Ory discovers his mistake, but his page advises him to restrain his wrath and rather be careful not to arouse that of the Duke, who has arrived with the crusaders at the chateau.
The libertine knights, always running after women, have now been captured by the ladies. Count Ory admits that he has lost, and asks what price will be set upon the freedom of his men. The Countess suggests that they discreetly retire or they might arouse the anger of the newly-returned husbands. Isolier will undertake the duty of guiding the knights out of the chateau through a secret passage. Finally the crusaders, led by the Count of Formoutiers, enter joyfully to be greeted enthusiastically by their faithful wives.