Les contes d’Hoffmann @ Amsterdam

Kratzer’s Lucio Silla in Brussels let me cold, but I was looking forward to this new production of Les Contes d’Hoffmann. The setting is actually beautiful. It represents a section view of several rooms in a three-story building. The central and biggest room was Hoffman’s bedroom. All the other smaller rooms around it change from one act to the other. Nicklausse stays in the middle room almost for the entirety of the opera, and keeps singing from the middle room even when dialoguing with other characters. This was a bit irritating also because filling a whole opera by one’s presence convincingly was clearly difficult. In the Olympia-act the top room is a cage where young, eyeless girls are kept captive, sleeping on the floor. In a short gory scene one of the girls’ face (Olympia) is sliced open (in the kitchen) in order to insert her eyes. Dressed up, she is pushed in front of the guests. She is scared, and every now and again, during her Oiseux aria, she searches shelter in the arms of Cochenille, but Spalanzani keeps pushing her back in front of the audience like an animal in the circus. Whenever she sings the other captive girls wake up, stick their arms through the cages, as if hoping they might be saved. I must admit it was very impactful. The Giulietta act is more traditional with empty rooms in 18th/19th style and wallpaper. Giulietta and Hoffman actually never meet and they sing from different rooms. Giulietta and Dappertutto also rarely meet. In the scene where Dappertutto is supposed to question her while she is in her room they DO meet, together with Crespel, who’s interjections sound a bit absurd as he is not supposed to see his daughter (very silly the whole thing I thought). I actually hate these inconsistencies. In my opinion, you either re-interpret it completely, give it another, deeper meaning, or you leave it as it is. In this case Kratzer’s “being original” was  so cringe-worthy in so many moments I felt like leaving.

Although the house is quite effective from a storytelling perspective, it has its limitations. First of all one cannot always see everything, only very centrally seated people can, otherwise the action is hidden due to the rooms being too small and deep. Secondly the acoustics is terrible. Once the singers turn their head slightly the sound and volume change. Vocally I thought the women were all wonderful. Jaho has an amazing beautiful, full bodied voice. Irene Robert’s Nicklaus was also very good though her voice got more brilliance in the higher register. Minasyan as Olympia had quite a beautiful timbre and was technically flawless. Christine Rice has a lush, luxurious voice which pairs excellently with the role of Giulietta. John Osborn is a singer I follow since I saw him Zurich’s Clari. He never disappointed me and also in Amsterdam his interpretation was spot on, his French excellent, his search for nuances impeccable. But I thought I missed expansion in his voice. The rooms’ acoustics again? I was not very impressed by Schrott, a bit distant character-wise and a bit too light for the evil characters but the comments from fellow listeners were overall favourable. Rizzi directs speedily and sometimes covers the voices, with only sporadic dramatic tension. .

Muzikale leiding-Carlo Rizzi, Regie-Tobias Kratzer, Decor en kostuums-Rainer Sellmaier, Licht-Bernd Purkrabek, Dramaturgie-Klaus Bertisch, Olympia-Nina Minasyan, Antonia-Ermonela Jaho, Giulietta-Christine Rice, La Muse-Irene Roberts, La Voix de la Tombe-Eva Kroon, Hoffmann-John Osborn, Lindorf/Coppelius/Le docteur Miracle/Le capitaine Dapertutto-Erwin Schrott, Spalanzani-Rodolphe Briand, Crespel/Maître LutherPaul Gay, Peter Schlémil-François Lis, Andrès/Cochenille/Frantz/Pittichinaccio-Sunnyboy Dladla, Nathanaël-Mark Omvlee, Hermann-Frederik Bergman, Wilhelm-Alexander de Jong – in het kader van DNO talent, Le capitaine des SbiresPeter Arink, 23/06/18, pictures from https://www.operaballet.nl/nl/opera/2017-2018/voorstelling/les-contes-d-hoffmann

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Les Contes d’Hoffmann @ Covent Garden

30555527200_c1339c57b3_zNo Hoffmann I ever saw was the same. In this London production the Giulietta act is in the middle with her sailing off with Pitinacchio, the sextet is kept, Nicklauss gets the violin aria. The conductor in London was Evelino Pidó who overall did a good job but I wish would have conducted with more intensity, would have indulged in some of the melodic accompaniment to highlight the richness of the score;…the punch was missing and I had a very slight feeling of rush…a corona slightly too short, a finale cut off a second too early etc. But what bothered me most was the cuts in the repetitions: Hoffmann’s couplet in the Giulietta act or the wonderful trio “J’ai la certains flacons” just to mention two. Sooo annoying ….

30740077912_e23ec9f6b8_zOlympia sang a bit too carefully, the coloratura not entirely impeccable. I very much liked the Giulietta of Christine Rice, a beautiful timbre in a part well sung. Yoncheva gave her beautiful voice to Antonia and was wonderful except for some edgy sounding top notes. Excellent was Vittorio Grigolo’s Hoffman, ringing acuti, voice perfectly controlled, reaches all notes of the pentagram without problems, interpreting the different facets of his character very credibly. Thomas Hampson certainly knows how to sing but the part is too low and him hearing struggle with notes made me see the singer rather than the character. Very disappointing. Kate Lindsey as Nicklausse sings quite well, has a lighter voice than one that is usually heard for this character but this does not harm very much. Smaller roles all well cast. I particularly liked Crespel’s nice bass voice. Direction in 19th century style, quite traditional and little machinery.

Conductor-Evelino Pidó, Director-John Schlesinger, Set designer-William Dudley, Costume designer-Maria Björnson, Lighting designer-David Hersey, Choreographer Eleanor Fazan, Fight director-William Hobbs, Hoffmann-Vittorio Grigòlo, Four Villains-Thomas Hampson, Olympia-Sofia Fomina, Giulietta-Christine Rice, Antonia-Sonya Yoncheva, Nicklausse-Kate Lindsey, Spalanzani- Christophe Mortagne, Crespel-Eric Halfvarson, Four Servants-Vincent Ordonneau, Spirit of Antonia’s Mother      Catherine Carby, Nathanael-David Junghoon Kim, Hermann-Charles Rice, Schlemil-Yuriy Yurchuk, Luther-Jeremy White, Stella-Olga Sabadoch.

7 & 11/11/16. Photo credit: Catherine Ashmore

Les Contes d’Hoffmann @ Lyon Opera

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Googling “ugliest opera house” doesn’t yield anything interesting. Surprisingly. From the lovely neoclassical facade and foyer from the 1831 Lyon opera house building, one would never imagine the  monstrosity hidden behind it. Totally excavated, filled with an almost surreal view of escalators, the totally black interior is, in my opinion, an example of architecture that should be condemned to eternal darkness. I could not have described the eyesore better than the article which the journalist Michael White wrote for the Telegraph: the first time I’ve ever spent half an opera interval queuing for the loo – a penance normally reserved for women at theatrical events, and I wish I could explain my experience of it here as something to do with French zeal for gender equality. But no, it’s just a piece of bad design.
The Lyon Opera had an architectural makeover in 1993 courtesy of the ultra-fashionable Jean Nouvel, turning it into something that feels like a 1980s gay bar, should you recognise that genre. Low black ceilings, low dark lighting, black floors, black walls… black is the undoubted theme. The audience stumble round trying to find the black doors that will give them access to black corridors, black escalators… and black porcelain toilets in black cubicles. Which is the rule even for men: the place is far too chic to have urinals, hence the queues.
Add in the fact that the (black) auditorium seats are uncomfortable, the one-way escalator systems for moving people around the buildings are crazy, and the cloakroom a long-distance running track for the poor people who man it (manning it what’s more, in a uniform of hugely flapping, tent-like trousers [black, of course] that would make George Clooney look camp and inhibit all normal movement) and you realise with a sigh that the whole place is a triumph of style over practicality.(http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/culture/michaelwhite/100059887/how-an-opera-house-in-france-is-turning-darkness-into-light/)
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Anywho… Les Contes d’Hoffmann….an opéra fantastique that reunites three unfortunate love-stories: The doll Olympia, the dying singer Antonia and the Venetian courtesan Giulietta. All loved by Hoffmann, they all end tragically. Since Offenbach died even before the orchestration, too many geniuses laid hand on the score and started the cuts, additions, changes, reversal of order, spoken dialogues vs recitative, changes to the story etc etc etc. The Lyon opera house opted for spoken dialogues, the death of Giulietta and the cut of “Scintille diamant” and the septet (which is not by Offenbach anyway but still a lovely piece of music). The mise en scene was the re-dusted one by Pelly which he created for Lyon in 2005. Although at times a bit too minimal (Venice is relegated to two gondola-imitating sofa’s and two breezy-translucent curtains), it manages, especially in the most compelling and convincing Antonia act, to present a haunted house-like feeling with its moving stairs, folding walls, rooms that appear and disappear, etc.

The title role was interpreted by John Osborn, who I tend to find wonderful in (almost) everything he sings. His no-safety net-delivery of Raoul in Les Huguenots a few years back took my breath away. In Lyon I found him a bit distant in Kleinzach’s song. As the evening went on he gained part of his ardour and energy that I like so much about him but he was generally not as expressive as in other roles I heard him in.

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Patrizia Ciofi (who was planned to alternate with Desirée Rancatore but eventually ended up singing almost all performances) sang all of Hoffmann’s women. Olympia’s coloratura were not as sparkling as she could have done a few years ago but I liked Ciofi’s actorial interpretation, and her rendering of Antonia was very moving and musically very convincing.

Laurent Alvaro sang the villains quite well with a generous voice and the minor roles were also well cast. My slight disappointment was Angelique Noldus as Nicklausse, a barely audible voice and unconvincing interpretation of Hoffmann’s companion. The biggest disappointment, however, was Ono’s direction. Ono completely lacked tension, and at times inappropriately paused or slowed down until loosing the musical flow, droning down the opera in shallow routine. Even the most gripping moments came out boring.

Direction musicale-Kazushi Ono, Mise en scène et costumes-Laurent Pelly, Remise en forme du livret et dramaturgie-Agathe Mélinand, Décors-Chantal Thomas, Lumières-Joël Adam, Réalisation vidéo-Charles Carcopino, Hoffmann-John Osborn, Olympia/Giulietta/Antonia-Patrizia Ciofi, Nicklausse/Muse-Angelique Noldus, Lindorf/Coppélius/Dapertutto/Docteur Miracle-Laurent Alvaro, Andrès/Cochenille/Pitichinaccio/Frantz-Cyrille Dubois, Spalanzani/Nathanaël -Carl Ghazorossian, Hermann/Schlemil-Christophe Gay, La Mère-Marie Gautrot, Lyon, 19-12-13