Recently in Recordings

Henry Purcell, Royal Welcome Songs for King Charles II Vol. III: The Sixteen/Harry Christophers

The Sixteen continues its exploration of Henry Purcell’s Welcome Songs for Charles II. As with Robert King’s pioneering Purcell series begun over thirty years ago for Hyperion, Harry Christophers is recording two Welcome Songs per disc.

Anima Rara: Ermonela Jaho

In February this year, Albanian soprano Ermonela Jaho made a highly lauded debut recital at Wigmore Hall - a concert which both celebrated Opera Rara’s 50th anniversary and honoured the career of the Italian soprano Rosina Storchio (1872-1945), the star of verismo who created the title roles in Leoncavallo’s La bohème and Zazà, Mascagni’s Lodoletta and Puccini’s Madama Butterfly.

Requiem pour les temps futurs: An AI requiem for a post-modern society

Collapsology. Or, perhaps we should use the French word ‘Collapsologie’ because this is a transdisciplinary idea pretty much advocated by a series of French theorists - and apparently, mostly French theorists. It in essence focuses on the imminent collapse of modern society and all its layers - a series of escalating crises on a global scale: environmental, economic, geopolitical, governmental; the list is extensive.

Ádám Fischer’s 1991 MahlerFest Kassel ‘Resurrection’ issued for the first time

Amongst an avalanche of new Mahler recordings appearing at the moment (Das Lied von der Erde seems to be the most favoured, with three) this 1991 Mahler Second from the 2nd Kassel MahlerFest is one of the more interesting releases.

Max Lorenz: Tristan und Isolde, Hamburg 1949

If there is one myth, it seems believed by some people today, that probably needs shattering it is that post-war recordings or performances of Wagner operas were always of exceptional quality. This 1949 Hamburg Tristan und Isolde is one of those recordings - though quite who is to blame for its many problems takes quite some unearthing.

Women's Voices: a sung celebration of six eloquent and confident voices

The voices of six women composers are celebrated by baritone Jeremy Huw Williams and soprano Yunah Lee on this characteristically ambitious and valuable release by Lontano Records Ltd (Lorelt).

Rosa mystica: Royal Birmingham Conservatoire Chamber Choir

As Paul Spicer, conductor of the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire Chamber Choir, observes, the worship of the Blessed Virgin Mary is as ‘old as Christianity itself’, and programmes devoted to settings of texts which venerate the Virgin Mary are commonplace.

The Prison: Ethel Smyth

Ethel Smyth’s last large-scale work, written in 1930 by the then 72-year-old composer who was increasingly afflicted and depressed by her worsening deafness, was The Prison – a ‘symphony’ for soprano and bass-baritone soloists, chorus and orchestra.

Songs by Sir Hamilton Harty: Kathryn Rudge and Christopher Glynn

‘Hamilton Harty is Irish to the core, but he is not a musical nationalist.’

After Silence: VOCES8

‘After silence, that which comes closest to expressing the inexpressible is music.’ Aldous Huxley’s words have inspired VOCES8’s new disc, After Silence, a ‘double album in four chapters’ which marks the ensemble’s 15th anniversary.

Beethoven's Songs and Folksongs: Bostridge and Pappano

A song-cycle is a narrative, a journey, not necessarily literal or linear, but one which carries performer and listener through time and across an emotional terrain. Through complement and contrast, poetry and music crystallise diverse sentiments and somehow cohere variability into an aesthetic unity.

Flax and Fire: a terrific debut recital-disc from tenor Stuart Jackson

One of the nicest things about being lucky enough to enjoy opera, music and theatre, week in week out, in London’s fringe theatres, music conservatoires, and international concert halls and opera houses, is the opportunity to encounter striking performances by young talented musicians and then watch with pleasure as they fulfil those sparks of promise.

Carlisle Floyd's Prince of Players: a world premiere recording

“It’s forbidden, and where’s the art in that?”

John F. Larchet's Complete Songs and Airs: in conversation with Niall Kinsella

Dublin-born John F. Larchet (1884-1967) might well be described as the father of post-Independence Irish music, given the immense influenced that he had upon Irish musical life during the first half of the 20th century - as a composer, musician, administrator and teacher.

Haddon Hall: 'Sullivan sans Gilbert' does not disappoint thanks to the BBC Concert Orchestra and John Andrews

The English Civil War is raging. The daughter of a Puritan aristocrat has fallen in love with the son of a Royalist supporter of the House of Stuart. Will love triumph over political expediency and religious dogma?

Beethoven’s Choral Symphony and Choral Fantasy from Harmonia Mundi

Beethoven Symphony no 9 (the Choral Symphony) in D minor, Op. 125, and the Choral Fantasy in C minor, Op. 80 with soloist Kristian Bezuidenhout, Pablo Heras-Casado conducting the Freiburger Barockorchester, new from Harmonia Mundi.

Taking Risks with Barbara Hannigan

A Louise Brooks look-a-like, in bobbed black wig and floor-sweeping leather trench-coat, cheeks purple-rouged and eyes shadowed in black, Barbara Hannigan issues taut gestures which elicit fire-cracker punch from the Mahler Chamber Orchestra.

Alfredo Piatti: The Operatic Fantasies (Vol.2) - in conversation with Adrian Bradbury

‘Signor Piatti in a fantasia on themes from Beatrice di Tenda had also his triumph. Difficulties, declared to be insuperable, were vanquished by him with consummate skill and precision. He certainly is amazing, his tone magnificent, and his style excellent. His resources appear to be inexhaustible; and altogether for variety, it is the greatest specimen of violoncello playing that has been heard in this country.’

Those Blue Remembered Hills: Roderick Williams sings Gurney and Howells

Baritone Roderick Williams seems to have been a pretty constant ‘companion’, on my laptop screen and through my stereo speakers, during the past few ‘lock-down’ months.

Bruno Ganz and Kirill Gerstein almost rescue Strauss’s Enoch Arden

Melodramas can be a difficult genre for composers. Before Richard Strauss’s Enoch Arden the concept of the melodrama was its compact size – Weber’s Wolf’s Glen scene in Der Freischütz, Georg Benda’s Ariadne auf Naxos and Medea or even Leonore’s grave scene in Beethoven’s Fidelio.



Jacques Offenbach: Les Contes d'Hoffmann
10 Aug 2006

OFFENBACH: Les Contes d'Hoffmann

When the Ring theater burned in Vienna, on December 8, 1881,1 Richard Wagner commented that it left him “cold” to know that a number of patrons should die while at a performance of Jacques Offenbach’s music.

Jacques Offenbach: Les Contes d'Hoffmann

Vincenzo La Scola, Ruggero Raimondi, Desirée Rancatore, Sara Allegretta, Annalisa Raspagliosi, Orchestra Filarmonica Marchigiana. Grédéric Chaslin (cond.). Pier Luigi Pizzi: director, set and costume designer

Dynamic 33470 [2CDs]

33.60 €  Click to buy

That almost half of the dead were Jewish, Wagner continues, “in no way increases our sympathy for him,” whose music is devoid of “moral worth.”2Following on the heels of the successful Paris premiere, the fire at the Ring cast a black cloud over Offenbach’s opera, but in spite of this tragedy and Wagner’s diatribe, Les contes d’Hoffmann quickly gained its rightful place in the operatic repertoire. Unlike Bizet who saw the premiere of his masterpiece and lived to make the necessary changes, Offenbach orchestrated only forty pages of Les Contes d’Hoffmann before he died.3The composer's heirs gave the task of finishing the opera to Ernest Guiraud.4

As early as 1879, Offenbach sanctioned the use of spoken dialogue in place of recitatives for performances of Les Contes d’Hoffmann at the Opéra-Comique. Since then, and continuing with Guiraud's alterations for the Paris premiere,5 the manipulations to the score and to the sequence of the acts have not stopped. Changes to this opera have been as popular as its best known melody, the “Barcarole.”6To add to the ménage, in 1976 Offenbach scholar Antonio de Almeida discovered 1250 pages of original manuscript, parts of the original libretto, Guiraud's orchestra score for Giulietta’s Act, part of Offenbach's autographed score for voice and piano, and part of the score used for the performance in Offenbach's home in 1879; as many as another 350 pages of original orchestrated autograph came up for auction in 1984; newly discovered, original, couplets premiered in Salzburg in 2003, and what appears to be an original score, survivor of the Comique fire of 1887, surfaced a few years ago. The door is wide open for one more scholar, conductor, producer or director to make another set of “definitive” and “critical” changes.7

The libretto8 by Jules Barbier9 is based on his and Michel Carré's five act play of 1851, Les contes fantastiques d'Hoffmann, which in turn is based on stories10 by E. T. A. Hoffmann,11 including the “Serapionsbrüder.”12As such, it should not come as a surprise that some of the characters in the opera are unrealistic; it should be remembered that in E. T. A. Hoffmann's stories there is not distinction between reality and fantasy. His tales evolve around a web of intrigue, fantasy, the supernatural and the grotesque. It is also worth noting that Hoffmann, the character, is weak and delusional and while at Luther’s Tavern, he is depressed and inebriated.13

Offenbach was ideally qualified to write this opera. The more than ninety Bouffes Parisiens Bouffes Parisiens was the name Offenbach gave to his first ‘Theater” on Les Champs Elysées in 1855. The name became so associated with his operettas that in many circles the two were synonymous. he penned gave him a unique insight into the story, into Hoffmann the writer, and Hoffmann the character: half truth, half parody; never quite real, not always an illusion; never quite in control, never quite wanting it. Hoffmann, the character is almost autobiographical14 of Hoffmann the writer and he lives through the opera as he did in real life: in a fantasy; his Muse/Conscience in the form of his friend Nicklaus, for ever trying to bring Hoffman back to reality.15The libretto also points in the biographical direction by touching on another of the German writer’s obsessions: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.16In the prelude, Lindorf lusts after Hoffman's latest infatuation, Stella, and points out to the performance of Don Giovanni; Nathanaël speaks of “the firm, assured voice [Stella] brings to Mozart's masterpiece....” There are other connections to the Austrian composer: Luther’s tavern, where the prelude and epilogue take place, is adjacent to the opera house where Stella is singing in the Mozart opera; Nicklause quotes the opening line of Leporello’s first aria, “Notte e giorno mal dormire,” and Offenbach gives the character of Hoffmann a touch of Mozart’s music.

On October 21, 1858 Offenbach produced the first full length French operetta, and the one which gave him instant success, Orphée aux enfers,17 to be followed by, among many, La Péricole, Barbe-bleu, La vie parisienne, La belle Hélène, and La Grande-Duchese de Gérolstein. After professional losses in 1875, which prompted the composer to declare bankruptcy, Offenbach toured the United States during the Centennial festivities and, upon returning to Paris, he wrote two books on his travel experiences. His health had been in decline by the time Offenbach started to compose what he must have known would be his masterpiece, but he pressed on. In May, 1879, there was a private reading of Les contes d'Hoffmann at Offenbach’s home at which Carvalho, from the Opèra-Comique, and Jauner, from the Ring Theater, were present. Both men wanted the rights to the work, and the composer eagerly agreed. Eighteen months later Offenbach died without seeing his opera reach the stage. Les Contes d'Hoffmann premiered at the Opèra Comique, on February 10, 1881, and the original production played one hundred and one performances to overwhelming, public, and critical acclaim.

A short drive from Rome, towards the Adriatic Ocean, is the town of Macerata, host to the summer Opera Festival.18 The first opera to play at the Arena Sferisterio19 was Norma, in 1914, but, it would be Aida, seven years later, which would cement the idea of the Macerata Opera Festival at the Sferisterio. If this DVD of Offenbach's masterpiece is any indication, Macerata ranks with, if not above, Verona or any other summer venue for the overall quality of their productions. This performance, from the 2004 season, combines elements from the Chouden and Oerse editions. The cast is mostly not French, and therefore not as idiomatic as many would expect. This, however, is minor and should not discourage anyone from enjoying this DVD, many times over: most all of the singers have fine tuned their characterizations by having participated in several, different, stagings of the opera.

Pier Luigi Pizzi delivers a visually stunning and effective production in spite of its simple premise: black and white with an occasional splash of red to denote or emphasize the different layers of evil.20 The stage is split into two levels and at the front there are two Neoclassical colonnades with balconies that mirror the peripheral wall of the Sferisterio. At times, these colonnades slide out of view to meet the needs of the action on stage. The scenery and the costumes are true to the original period of the stories, yet subtly updated. Aside from the use of “red,” there are no hidden meanings in this production, no esoteric or psychological self aggrandizing statements from Pizzi and the viewer is left free to search for and to reach his/her own conclusions. Overall, this is a very good production which successfully combines all its elements. The DVD, under the direction of Tiziano Mancini, is just as good with many close- ups, wide-angle shots and superimposed views of the stage action and carefully chosen individual shots.

In the title role, Italian tenor, Vincenzo La Scola made his professional debut in 1982, as Oronte in Verdi's I Lombardi; his international career was launched three years later in Brussels, when he sang Nemorino in Donizetti's L'elisir d'amor, at the Theâtre Royale de la Monnaie. Since then, La Scola has sung in all the major operatic capitals and toured the former Soviet Union and Japan; his repertoire is equally varied: Rigoletto, Don Carlo, La Boheme, Capuletti e i Montechi, Traviata, Nabucco, Lucia di Lammermoor, Roberto Devereux, Simon Boccanegra, Beatrice di Tenda, Werther, Luisa Miller, Aida, etc., and the darker roles of Pollione in Norma, the title role in Ernani, Faust in Boito's Mefistofele, Don José in Carmen, Manrico in Trovatore, Mario Cavaradosi in Tosca, and in 1992, Hoffmann when he essayed the role for his debut with the Houston Grand Opera.

La Scola's French is tinged with a slightly warmer accent, especially at the beginning of the opera where he uses “forte” and clips the words to demonstrate Hoffman's inebriation. The singer takes his characterization one step further in “A boire ... La vie est courte ... Il faut boire, chanter et rire à l'aventure ...” where he successfully demonstrates the character's delusional mind stepping in and out of reality.21 During the Song of Kleinzach, La Scola remains in character, inebriated, effectively switching from the mocking tone of the song to painful thoughts of Stella and his ideal woman, “Ah! Sa figure....” His diction is more natural in the subsequent acts and his interpretation of the naive Hoffmann in the Olympia scene is believable. “Allons! Courage et confiance ... C'est elle! Elle sommeille! ... Ah! vivre à deux....” give La Scola ample opportunity to imbue his singing with many colors to match the different moods of the aria: from self-consciousness to the thrill of discovery, from fear to hope, to passion, and blind love. In the Venice scene “Ô Dieu, di quelle invresse embrases-tu mon âáme?” his voice easily soars over the orchestra and the high notes are not forced. In Act III La Scola is thrilling in “J'ai le bonheur dans làme!” with Antonia.

La Scola easily handles the difficulties of the role. He has a fine instrument with a pleasant timbre, though not not one to please every listener; La Scola's singing is sincere and he brings to the stage the added bonus of being a good actor and comedian, and never showing off to overcome what some may view as his shortcomings.

Few singers approach the role of Nicklaus with the ease of Elsa Maurus. The French mezzo-soprano made her professional debut at the Nantes Opera House in Léo Delibes Le Roi la dit,followed by Rossina in Il barbiere di Siviglia in Rouen. An accomplished recitalist as well, Maurus has sung in La damnation de Faust, Mozart's Requiem, Stauss' Arabella, Schumann's Scenes from Goethe's Faust, Marius Constant's Teresa, and other works by Poulenc, Ravel, Berstein,Mozart, Mahler, Mendelssohn, etc., and in 2002, Maurus participated in “A Requiem Concert in Memory of the Events of September 11” at the National Opera House in Kiev. She sings in the DVDs of The Elephant Man, Il turco in Italia, and on CD she sings Berlioz' Les nuites d' été andBenvenuto Celini, Gouvy's Requiem and the soundtrack to Mécanique Célestes, the story of a young Rossinian soprano.

Maurus' singing is effortless and expressive; her voice is dark without being inappropriately masculine and she is blessed with a real understanding of the music entrusted to her. Acting comes easily to Maurus, as well, enabling her to move about the stage in the most natural manner and making the pant role believable. She has a very expressive face, too, an attribute she uses extremely well as in the pained look she gives Hoffmann in the Prelude while he wallows in his misery.

In the Act I aria, “Une poupée aux yeux d'émail ... Le petit coq,” Maurus is restrained, though effectively charming, in her imitation of the mechanical doll, and in the opening of Act II, the Barcarole, “Belle nuit, ô nuit d'amour,” is an ideal showcase for Maurus' excellent musicianship; her instrument's dark tones complimenting the string section. In Antonia's Act, Maurus sings an impassioned Romance, “Vois sous l'archet frémissant,” Her voice colored with a subtle vibrato to accentuate the pathos in the words she is singing. The Epilogue belongs completely to Maurus. In “Des sendres de ton cœur” her voice takes on different hues of poignancy without any hint of melodramatic superficiality.

Désirée Rancatore steals the show with her half human half “automate” interpretation of the doll, Olympia. Rancatore made her professional debut in 1996 in Salzburg, as Barbarina in Le nozze di Figaro. Since then she has appeared at Opera Gala at the Faenol, the Festival of Baroque Music, and the Teatro Massimo di Palermo Mozart's festivities, La Scala, Covent Garden, Teatro Real, Teatro Regio, etc. On DVD and CD she sings Blonde in Entfürhrung aus dem Serail, Olympia in Covent Garden's production of Les Contes d'Hoffmann with Neil Shicoff and Bryn Terfel, and Rigoletto. Rancatore sang the role of Semele in Pizzi's production of Salieri's opera, Europa riconosciuta, at La Scala; Fauno in Mozart's Ascanio in alba; La Contessa di Folleville in Rossini's Il viaggio a Reims; Sophie in Rosenkavalier, and Kostanze in Entfürhrung aus dem Serail. Future engagements include La Cambiale di Matrimonio and Elvira in Bellini's Puritani.

Rancatore imbues the role of Olympia with childhood innocence, tinged with a bit of cheekiness; this Olympia is not the standard “dummy;” she is a teaser, conscious of human sexuality and she enjoys showing her undergarments. Rancatore's instrument has a pleasant timbre and, in this performance, she gives hints of her thrilling coloratura in “Les oiseaux dans la charmille.” Some of her limitations are due to the “characterization” of the doll she is playing, at times giving her voice a touch of steel. In spite of this, Rancatore is well suited for the role and she delivers any number of high notes, mixed with the necessary wit and physical energy required for the role.

By comparison to Olympia's raucous behavior, the opening duet of the Venice scene is a welcome moment of calm and Sara Allegretta's warm, honey toned voice is like a medicinal tonic to the ears; the velvet texture of her instrument is as alluring as her character. Her classic good looks adding to the mystique of the character she is playing.

From the opening moments of the Venice scene, the viewer is aware that Giulietta is more interested in seducing Nicklaus than in Hoffmann,22 and Allegretta's voice beautifully blends with Maurus' in the Barcarole, giving credence to the lyrics. In the duet with Hoffmann, “Si ta présence m'est ravie/Extase, ivresse inassouvie,” she holds her own as well as in the sextet23 that closes the act, her voice rising easily over La Scola's and the orchestra.

Allegretta has sung at Wexford, La Fenice, Salzburg, Ferrara, Teatro della Pergola, Amsterdam's Concertgebouw, Teatro Comunale di Bologna, Covent Garden, and her repertoire includes works by Cherubini, Meyerbeer, Piccinni, Verdi, Rossini, Monteverdi,Vivaldi, Adams, Paisiello, etc.

Antonia is sung by Annalisa Raspagliosi. The young singer, has added a large number of credits to her name since 1998, when she won the “Cascina Lirica” and the “Città di Roma” Competitions. The Italian soprano has had a busy career, too, starting with her debut as Violetta Valéry in Verdi's Traviata,rapidly adding Amelia in Simon Boccanegra,24Alice in Robert le diable, the title role in Luisa Miller, Fiordiligi in Cos ì fan tutte, Mimì in Boh è me, Lina in Stiffelio, Amalia in Verdi's Masnadieri, Nedda in Leoncavallo's tragedy, Sîta in Massenet's Le Roi de la Hore, Anna and Liu in Puccini's Le vili and Turandot, Margherita in Boito's Mefostofele, Elisabetta in Verdi's Don Carlo, and Michaela in Bizet's Carmen. Raspagliosi's international career took off when she toured the United States, Latin America, and Japan with Luciano Pavarotti in his Farewell Tour; since then, she has sung in all the important Italian theaters as well as in many European capitals.

Raspagliosi has a most pleasant instrument with uniform vocal tone. She is a very expressive actress and her youthful good looks are well suited for the role of the hapless girl, Antonia. Raspagliosi's opening aria is effective as are her moments with Hoffmann, “A l'amour soyons fidèles!” “C'est un chanson d'amour qui s'envole” and “J'ai le bonheur dans làme!” Her final scene with Dr. Mircle and Antonia's mother is marred only by a drop in pitch at the end of the trio which Raspagliosi cleverly disguises. She sings with youthful elegance, her diminuendi are well executed, the high notes are effortless, and she uses chest notes sparingly to emphasize the drama.

Ruggero Raimondi, like La Scola, sings at times with the undeniable warmth of the Italian language, but don't let this detract anyone; Raimondi is an excellent interpreter of the four villains, always in control of the individual characters, giving each demon its own personality and unique perspective on Evil: Lindorf is self assured with a dash of cynicism; Coppélius is a witty charlatan, personified; Dapperttutto is sophisticated, cool and calm; Miracle is sinister, calculating, and razor sharp. The only common element in Raimondi's interpretation of the four villains is their vindictive enjoyment of being Evil.

The Italian bass is superb in his timing; with economy of action he knows how to denote the different moods: a subtle look, an outstretched arm, a sinister smile. He is as agile about the stage as though someone half his age; he is a singing actor who has no need to overact to get the point of his characters across. Raimondis's interpretation of the four villains has been called “Evil incarnate.”

As Lindorf, Raimondi sings in the Prelude “Dans les rôles d'amoreux,” with ease and agility and in stark contrast to some of the words in the aria. His instrument delivers a secure sound without vibrato and his breath control is excellent to the last note of the aria, which he securely holds. In Act II, “Je me nomme Coppélius ... J'ai des yeux, de vrais yeux...” Raimondi sings with verve and wit, adding a convincing trace of dignity to an otherwise conniving artist. In the Venice scene as Dapertutto, Raimondi imbues the aria “Scintille, diamant, fascine, satire-la!” with elegance singing it as a love song with sinister overtones. Raimondi is the most menacing and evil as Dr. Miracle. His opening lines are sung slowly and deliberately; his singing is evenly placed, almost at a whisper, and the high notes are carefully sung as to not interfere with the ominous aura around the character.

Raimondi studied at the Milan and Rome Conservatories before winning the Spoletto Competitions in 1964 where he sang the role of Coline in Puccini's Bohème. followed by his professional debut at the Rome Opera as Procida, in Verdi's Vespri Siciliani.

Of his debut at the Metropolitan Opera on September 14, 1970,25 Winthrop Sargeant wrote in the New Yorker, “[Raimondi] sang with fine quality and style, making an impression that will entitle him to many a future role at the Metropolitan Opera. He is not a deep bass, but he is one with plenty of velvet and a commanding stage presence.”

Sargeant's comments are still as true today as when he wrote them thirty-six years ago. Raimondi's lower notes come easily and though not bottomless, they are effortlessly endless; the timbre in his voice caressing each word he sings. He is an all around great singing actor, without exaggerated mannerisms to which so many so easily fall prey. Raimondi is dramatic, forceful, humorous, and at all times “in character.”

To paraphrase Lindorf's opening aria, “Dans les rôles d'amoreux,” Raimondi has many “assets.., [he may be] old, but [he is] full of life!” At sixty four, Raimondi has many more years ahead of him.

The secondary roles are effectively handled, some of the singers doubling on the roles they interpret. Thomas Morris is quite enjoyable as the older inventor and mad scientist, Spalanzani. His over the top comedic skills help Morris carry off the role in spite of his non-idiomatic French. Tenor Luca Casalin in the roles of Andrès, Cochenille, Frantz, and Pitichinaccio excels in all four roles. As Cochenille he stammers as though he were afflicted with the condition and he assumes an affected air well suited to the character. Casalin is reserved and cautious in the Second Act, and in Antonia's scene, in addition to this dancing abilities, Casalin's well sung rendition of “Jour et nuit je me mets en quatre” adds a touch of comedic relief to the otherwise very serious tone of the Act. Casalin switches registers with great ease and his instrument has a pleasant timbre. Bass Lorenzo Muzzi is very versatile and gives distinctly different interpretations of Luther and Crespel.

Frédéric Chaslin conducts with a tight grip on the members of the orchestra.

Sometimes all one needs to see is the opening titles to know the performance is going to be as exiting as one imagined, and in this case, the results have exceeded the expectations. There is only one thing one would criticize, though it is a standard feature in most productions of this opera: not using the same singer for Stella, Olympia, Giulietta, and Antonia as Offenbach intended.26 These four women are the counterpart to Lindorf and his three evil incarnations, and just like him, the nemesis of Hoffmann's frustrated notions of love. Together and separately these four women and four men work in Hoffmann's weak mind against his happiness and towards his self defeat. Aside from that minor observation, this is one production to be savored and enjoyed many times over.

At the end of the video the applause is spliced and one can hear sounds from the orchestra pit as well as comments from patrons repeated, over and over again, giving a uniform effect to the audience reaction. This is a strange concept. Whatever the reason for this technical manipulation, one can only surmise the producer wanted the appearance that all the performers, as they rightfully deserve, received the same quantity and quality of accolades from the members of the audience.

Though one will never know what Jacques Offenbach had in mind as the final version of his opera, he can rest assured that slowly, but surely, steps are being taken to complete his vision.

Daniel Pardo


Spalanzani: Thomas Morris

Crespel/Luther: Lorenzo Muzzi

Andrés,Cochenille, Pitichinaccio, Frantz: Luca Casalin

Hermann/Schlémil: Nicholas Rivenq

Nathanaël: Francesco Zingariello

Stella/La mère d'Antonia: Tiziana Carraro

A voice: Pierpaolo Palloni

Wilhem: Davide Tonucci

Orchestra Filarmonica Marchigiana

Coro Lirico Marchigiano “V. Bellini”

Conductor: Frédéric Chaslin

Coreography: Gheorghe Iancu

Video: Tiziano Mancini


Arena di Verona

Chapters of Opera

Henry Edward Krehbiel

© 1908 Henry Holt & Co.

New York

The Complete Opera Book

© 1935 C.W. Kobbé

G.P. Putnam’s Sons

New York

Complete Stories of the Operas

© 1947 Milton J. Cross

Doubleday & Co. New York

Les Contes d'Hoffmann

Les Contes d'Hoffmann: Michael Kaye Edition

Les Contes d’Hoffmann

Liner Notes

William Weaver

Richard Bonynge

© 1972 © 1986 London/Decca

Les Contes d'Hoffmann

Liner Notes

Jeffrey Tate

Michael Kaye

© 1992 Philips Classics Productions

Friends of the Salzburg Festival on line

Great Composers 1300-1900

David Ewen

© 1966 H. W. Wilson

New York

The Harper Dictionary of Opera & Operetta

James Anderson

© 1989 Bloomsbury Publishing Ltd.

Harper Collins Publishers, Inc.

New York

The Harvard Biographical Dictionary of Music

Don Michael Randel, Editor

© President & Fellows Harvard College

Belknap Press Harvard

Cambridge, Massachusetts

Macerata Arena Sferisterio

Elsa Maurus

Metropolitan Opera Archives

Music Culture

The New Penguin Opera Guide

© 2001 Amanda Holden, Editor

Penguin Books

London-New York

Radio Beethoven

Ruggero Raimondi

Vincenzo La Scola

The Tales of Hoffmann

Liner Notes

George Movshon

© 1972 © 2002 Deutsche Grammophon

Wagner vs Meyerbeer

Tom Kaufman

© 2003 Opera Quarterly

Volume 19 Number 4, Autumn 2003

Oxford University Press

North Carolina

End Notes

1. The gas explosion and fire at the Ring brought shame and ruin to Franz von Jauner. The impresario was arrested and blamed for the disaster; in disgrace, he committed suicide. Accounts vary as to the accurate number of casualties. Different sources report between 400 to 900 of whom, up to, half were Jewish. Wagner mentions “416 members of that tribe.”
2. Kaufman, 2003, p.666
3. At the time of the composer’s death, the piano and vocal score were complete, but opinions vary on how much of the opera was orchestrated by Offenbach. Some say the Prelude and Antonia’s aria, “Elle a fui, la tourterelle,” others say the Prelude and Act I, and others say Act IV.
4. Born in New Orleans, Enerst Guiraud (at times spelled Geraud, Giraud or Girard) (1837-1892), a teacher and composer whose music is now forgotten, gained immortality through his work on Bizet’s Carmen and Offenbach’s Les Contes d’Hoffmann. Dapertutto’s Mirror Aria was written by André Bloch, a student of Guiraud's, for a 1904 performance of Les contes d’Hoffmann at the Monte Carlo Opera.
5. Guiraud added recitatives, he eliminated Giulietta’s scene, except for the Barcarolle which was added to the Antonia Act, and he shortened the role of Nicklaus. In reality, Offenbach is in part to blame for this: he, too, made a number of substantial changes to the opera; originally the role of Hoffmann was written for baritone Jacques Bouhy.
6. Ironically, the most famous musical passage of the opera and one which even non opera fans can hum, the Barcarole, as well as the drinking song that follows came from Offenbach’s 1864 romantic opera for Vienna, Die Reinnixen.
7. Aside from Chouden's five editions of the opera, there are Guiraud's two redactions-one for the Paris premiere and one for the Vienna premiere translated into German by Julius Hopp. Among the many other versions there is the Roul Gunsbourg production for the Monte Carlo Opera in 1904, with music by Guiraud's pupil, André Bloch. This production changed the sequence of acts, placing the Giulietta scene as second instead of third as intended by Offenbach. Among the many other versions there is the Gregor/Morris (1905), Maag/Haug (1944), Beecham/Arundell (1951), Gelsenstein/Voigtmann (1958) Bonynge (1972) Oeser (1976), Ponnelle/Levine (1980) and Michael Kaye towards the end of the Century.
8. Another composer, the now forgotten Hector Solomón, had prior rights to the libretto.
9. Michael Carré died in 1872. His name, long associated with Barbier's, mistakenly appeared in contemporary reports as well as in the first Chouden printing of the original score.
10. Serapionsbrüder (1821), Prelude and Apotheosis (Epilogue);Der Sandman (1814), Olympia's Act; Rat Krespel (1816) Antonia's Act; Die Abenteuer der Silvester-Nacht (1815), Giulietta's Act.
11. Ernest Theodore Amadeus Hoffmann (1776-1822), a deputy judge, was also a writer, music teacher, an accomplished critic, a theatrical musical director, and a composer. His opera Undine (1816) brought him fame and aside from his writings, he later became immortalized with Les contes d’Hoffmann. Among the many composers who brought Hoffmann stories to the stage there is Adam (La poupée de Nuremberg), Tchaikovsky (The Nutcracker), Hindemith (Cardillac), Busoni (Die Brautwahl), Offenbach (Le roi carotte), and Malipiero (I capricci di Callot)
12. The Serapion Brotherhood, a literary group of drinkers and story tellers where each member tells one of twenty-eight stories which are in turn analyzed by the other members.
13. E. T. A. Hoffman, like the character in the opera, seldom knew the difference between reality and fantasy; he was, more often than not, inebriated.
14. E. T. A. Hoffmann also belonged to a literary group and quite often, inebriated, exchanged stories, à la Serapion Brotherhood.
15. The writer would often come home from his drinking escapades tortured and obsessed with a new story in his head and stay up through the night–his wife, the only reality in Hoffmann's life, staying up to console him.
16. E.T.A. Hoffman was obsessed with Mozart; he dropped one of his original middle names, Wilhelm, in order to adopt the Austrian composer’s, Amadeus.
17. Indirectly, Offenbach also started the craze for the Can-Can, its most famous tune taken from this operetta. Similarly, the U.S. Marine Hymn, “The Halls of Montezuma,” comes from Offenbach’s 1859 operetta, Geneviève de Brabant.
18. Katia Ricciarelli is the present Festival Director
19. Macerata's Arena Sferisterio was the gift of local businessmen to the town's youth. Built between 1819 and 1829, the Neoclassical building is unusually long and narrow with an unusually wide and shallow (120' x 45') stage; the Arena holds over 3,000 spectators.
20. Lindorf and his demonic angels wear red shirts and red cravats tied in a voluminous bows; Coppelius' long coat is lined in red; Dapertutto wears a red rose in his lapel; Dr. Miracle and his sinister assistants wear red surgical gloves and Dr. Miracle's carriage is also lined in red. There are other hints of Evil in red: Olympia's “guilded” cage is red, Schlémil and Giulietta are dressed in red. The rest of the characters are dressed in black or white with the exception of the Venice scene which is peopled with colorful Carnival revelers.
21. For once here is a production where Hoffmann is inebriated in the first and last scene of the opera (Luther's Tavern and the Epilogue) as the libretto calls for. Lindorf rightly refers to him as “A poet, a drunkard...” and among Hoffmann's first lines, he sings, “... Bring me a drink ... Life is short ... We must seize the chance to drink...;” in the epilogue, acknowledging his defeat, he says, “...Let's have insobriety and folly, the annihilation which brings oblivion....”
22. This Act often opens, as in this production, with the misleading notion that Nicklaus and Giulietta are romantically involved: the two characters, alone on stage, singing the Barcarole, and in this DVD they kiss, more than once. In Offenbach's original plan, Giulietta’s Act is divided into three tableaux with changements à vue, starting with a lively party and the setting for the Barcarole. This is followed by a Garden Scene in which Hoffmann duels and kills Schlemil for the key to Giulietta’s boudoir. The third scene takes place in the courtesan's private chambers. The first tableaux opens with Hoffmann addressing the guests, “Gentlemen, be silent! An amorous refrain is wafting in the air. Let them [Nicklaus and Giulietta] sing to us; we will drink for them.” This introduction, which appears in the Michael Kaye Edition, leads to Nicklaus' opening lines of the Barcarole, “Belle nuit, ô nuit d'amour,” later to be joined by Giulietta in “Le temps fuit et sans retour.” The source for this misleading opening of the Venice Act could very well be impresario Raoul Gunsbourg and his 1904 production of Les Contes for the Monte Carlo Opera. In the preface to his autobiography, Gounsbourg states that he wrote almost all of Giulietta's Act and takes credit for the way this act has been traditionally performed ever since.
23. At times referred to as a septet.
24. Raspagliosi has recorded the Original 1857 version of Simon Boccanegra
25. Raimondi made his Metropolitan Opera debut as Silva in Ernani.
26. Hoffmann sings, “Yes, Stella! Three women in one! Three souls in a single one, artist, young girl and courtesan!”

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):