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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Lucio Silla @ Brussels

Mozart was 16 when he composed Lucio Silla but it remained the last opera he wrote for Italy for after the opera premiered during the Carneval season of 1773, the Regio Ducal Teatro (for whom Mozart wrote Mitridate and Ascanio in Alba) did not commission any more operas to Mozart. The opera has no easy or proper plot, which is not uncommon in operas of that period. Although the librettist Giovanni de Gamerra went on to play a small role in the development of what was to become romantic opera, the characters in Lucio Silla are very static. Mozart composed a varied palette of music, some conventional pieces, others remarkably deep, using some new and elaborate forms, a considerable amout of recitativi accompagnati-a more dramatic form than the recitativo secco-and expanding the orchestra with trumpets, giving the orchestra more elaborate writings then relegate it to a standard accompaniment. Recitivi were written when still in Salzburg while the arias were composed tailormaid to the strengths of the singers. They all turned up in Milan between end of November and beginning of December 1772. The first Cecilio was the famous castrato Venanzio Rauzzini, while the first Giunia was Anna de Amicis, equally famous. De Amicis “was very satisfied with the arias, and Mozart introduced in them passages which are very unusual, unique and extremely difficult and which she sings amazingly well…” father Mozart reported, who was in Milan with his son. Giunia and Cecilio each sing in 7 pieces. And Mozart gives them a wonderful duet to close Act I. Lucio Silla himself sings only in 3 pieces, which is either due to his text written to be conveyed dramatically by the recitativo or by the fact that the originally intended star had to be replaced last minute with a lesser known singer, or both. The new tenor arrived December 17th and the next day Mozart had composed the two arias for him. Cinna has also only 3 arias but has the privilege to sing the first, while Celia’s role lightens the atmosphere, seen that she is not included in the political plot. The full orchestra rehearsals were done the 18, 20 and 22 December, the dress rehearsal the 23rd and the opera was performed the 26th and run for 26 performance, a considerable amount. Mozart was pleased with both Anna de Amicis and Venanzio Rauzzini, and for the latter, around the 15th January, he composed the famous motet Exultate, jubilate.

The director sets the story in modern days and when the curtain rises, one sees a modern house (which later revolves) and tress around it, very much like in Pizzi’s Pietra del paragone, but less stylish. But the plot is quite thin, the da capo arias very long and Tobias Kratzer really only asks for very conventional movements (except for much cutting of veins and a dog running around) and the little action on stage starts boring very soon. The orchestra played the ouverture swiftly and nervously (maybe a bit too nervously?) but Manacorda directed and accompanied very well. I thought Jeremy Ovenden was just acceptable. His lower register weak, his interpretation extremely thin. Much better Lenneke Ruiten. Her role has extreme demands and she manages well with a beautiful and bright top register. In one of the most difficult arias ever written Ah se il crudel periglio she convinces much less (drops a note every now and then to breath). Anna Bonitatinus gave a lovely recital of Rossini songs a couple of weeks back. A forgotten repertoire that she rendered beautifully. But her Cecilio was not as convincing. Her tight vibrato is a bit unpleasant and it seems to me Cecilio is a size too big for her. Her 2nd entrance aria was sung with much transport and fury and was a joy to hear, as was her last aria, but there are constant struggles with pitch. Marvellous Simona Saturova as Celia. She sings  her four arias wonderfully and with great taste. I had big hopes for the opening aria but i had to wait for Ilse Eerens to sing her other two arias which allows her to show her bravura. I like her beatiful timbre and clear top notes. Good also Carlo Allemano but untidy roulades.

Conductor-Antonello Manacorda, Director-Tobias Kratzer, Set And Costume Design-Rainer Sellmaier, Lighting-Reinhard Traub, Video–Manuel Braun, Dramaturgy-Krystian Lada, Lucio Silla-Jeremy Ovenden, Giunia-Lenneke Ruiten, Cecilio-Anna Bonitatibus, Celia-Simona Šaturová, Cinna-Ilse Eerens, Aufidio-Carlo Allemano. 7/11/17, pictures by  www.demunt.be