An introduction to the opera’s main characters and their roles in the plot, and a complete opera synopsis for young readers
ACT I France, outside the castle of Formoutiers
The village of Formoutiers, in the French countryside, has a problem: All the men have left town to fight in the Crusades, leaving the women of the village to fend for themselves. In order to protect themselves, the Countess Adèle and her ladies-in-waiting at the castle near the village have sworn to keep all men out of the castle until the soldiers return. But the countess desperately misses her absent brother, and she has become inconsolably sad.
One day, a religious hermit and his assistant appear near the castle. Both the ladies from the castle and the local peasant girls seek the holy man’s blessings. The hermit’s assistant, Raimbaud, assures the women that the hermit will help—as long as they leave wine and food for him at his “hermitage,” the small, humble hut where he lives. The hermit himself promises to bring peace, prosperity, and husbands for the young ladies. But this “hermit” is none other than the mischievous Count Ory in disguise, and what he’s really after is to seduce some of the country girls.
Isolier, Count Ory’s page, arrives in Formoutiers with Ory’s tutor in hopes of meeting the woman that he loves, Adèle. The tutor soon realizes that the hermit is Ory, but Isolier, fooled by the count’s disguise, asks him for help in wooing the countess. He tells the holy man his plan to sneak into the castle. Ory, meanwhile, instantly recognizes Isolier, and he decides to steal Isolier’s plan—and sneak into the castle to woo the countess himself.
Seeking the hermit to cure her sadness, Adèle recognizes her cousin Isolier. Though they’ve met before, she suddenly falls in love with him—despite her vow to remain chaste until the Crusaders come home. The hermit does advise her to love, but also to avoid Isolier, “faithful page of this terrible Count Ory.” Ory is on the verge of conning his own way into her castle when his tutor exposes him to one and all. A letter arrives: The men of the castle will be home from the Crusades in two days. That leaves Ory only one day to get into the castle and try his luck with the countess.
ACT II Inside Adèle’s castle
As a thunderstorm rages, the ladies of Formoutiers are safe inside the castle. Soon, a group of wandering nuns knocks at the door: They are seeking shelter from the storm—and from the romantic advances of Count Ory. The kind ladies of the castle admit the nuns. What they don’t realize is that the holy women are actually Ory and his friends, dressed in nuns’ clothing. The disguised men complain about the food that the ladies have provided until one of them discovers the wine cellar. By the time the countess comes to check on the sisters’ welfare, they’re drunk.
In the middle of the night, there is another knock on the door of the castle. It is Isolier. He knows that no men are allowed in the castle, but he asks the countess to make an exception because he has important news: The village’s men will reach home by midnight. Isolier quickly figures out that the “nuns” are really Comte Ory and his companions, and he assures Adèle that he has a plan to keep them under control until the Crusaders arrive home.
When one of the nuns—Ory himself, who doesn’t realize that he’s been exposed—begs to join the countess in the safety of her bedroom, Isolier puts his plan into effect. Posing as the countess in the darkness, he makes Ory address his advances to him. Comic confusion ensues, but the countess’s virtue holds fast. When the soldiers arrive at the castle gates, Ory is left with no choice but to make his escape. Isolier, meanwhile, celebrates the men’s return—and his love for Adèle.