Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

Mascagni's Isabeau at Opera Holland Park: in conversation with David Butt Philip

Opera directors are used to thinking their way out of theatrical, dramaturgical and musico-dramatic conundrums, but one of the more unusual challenges must be how to stage the spectacle of a young princess’s naked horseback-ride through the streets of a city.

Grange Park Opera travels to America

The Italian censors forced Giuseppe Verdi and his librettist Antonio Somma to relocate their operatic drama of the murder of the Swedish King Gustav III to Boston, demote the monarch to state governor and rename him Riccardo, and for their production of Un ballo in maschera at Grange Park Opera, director Stephen Medcalf and designer Jamie Vartan have left the ‘ruler’ in his censorial exile.

Puccini’s La bohème at The Royal Opera House

When I reviewed Covent Garden’s Tosca back in January, I came very close to suggesting that we might be entering a period of crisis in casting the great Puccini operas. Fast forward six months, and what a world of difference!

Na’ama Zisser's Mamzer Bastard (world premiere)

Let me begin, like an undergraduate unsure quite what to say at the beginning of an essay: there were many reasons to admire the first performance of Na’ama Zisser’s opera, Mamzer Bastard, a co-commission from the Royal Opera and the Guildhall.

Les Arts Florissants : An English Garden, Barbican London

At the Barbican, London, Les Arts Florissants conducted by Paul Agnew, with soloists of Le Jardin de Voix in "An English Garden" a semi-staged programme of English baroque.

Die Walküre in San Francisco

The hero Siegfried in utero, Siegmund dead, Wotan humiliated, Brünnhilde asleep, San Francisco’s Ring ripped relentlessly into the shredded emotional lives of its gods and mortals. Conductor Donald Runnicles laid bare Richard Wagner’s score in its most heroic and in its most personal revelations, in their intimacy and in their exploding release.

Das Rheingold in San Francisco

Alberich’s ring forged, the gods moved into Valhalla, Loge’s Bic flicked, Wagner’s cumbersome nineteenth century mythology began unfolding last night here in Bayreuth-by-the-Bay.

ENO's Acis and Galatea at Lilian Baylis House

The shepherds and nymphs are at play! It’s end-of-the-year office-party time in Elysium. The bean-bags, balloons and banners - ‘Work Hard, Play Harder’ - invite the weary workers of Mountain Media to let their hair down, and enter the ‘Groves of Delights and Crystal Fountains’.

Lohengrin at the Royal Opera House

Since returning to London in January, I have been heartened by much of what I have seen - and indeed heard - from the Royal Opera.

Stéphane Degout and Simon Lepper

Another wonderful Wigmore song recital: this time from Stéphane Degout – recently shining in George Benjamin's new operatic masterpiece,

An excellent La finta semplice from Classical Opera

‘How beautiful it is to love! But even more beautiful is freedom!’ The opening lines of the libretto of Mozart’s La finta semplice are as contradictory as the unfolding tale is ridiculous. Either that master of comedy, Carlo Goldoni, was having an off-day when he penned the text - which was performed during the Carnival of 1764 in the Teatro Giustiniani di S. Moisè in Venice with music by Salvatore Perillo - or Marco Coltellini, the poeta cesareo who was entertaining the Viennese aristocracy in 1768, took unfortunate liberties with poetry and plot.

Pan-European Orpheus : Julian Prégardien

"Orpheus I am!" - An unusual but very well chosen collection of songs, arias and madrigals from the 17th century, featuring Julian Prégardien and Teatro del mondo. Devised by Andreas Küppers, this collection crosses boundaries demonstrating how Italian, German, French and English contemporaries responded to the legend of Orpheus and Eurydice.

Whatever Love Is: The Prince Consort at Wigmore Hall

‘We love singing songs, telling stories …’ profess The Prince Consort on their website, and this carefully curated programme at Wigmore Hall perfectly embodied this passion, as Artistic Director and pianist Alisdair Hogarth was joined by tenor Andrew Staples (the Consort’s Creative Director), Verity Wingate (soprano) and poet Laura Mucha to reflect on ‘whatever love is’.

Bryn Terfel's magnetic Mephisto in Amsterdam

It had been a while since Bryn Terfel sang a complete opera role in Amsterdam. Back in 2002 his larger-than-life Doctor Dulcamara hijacked the stage of what was then De Nederlandse Opera, now Dutch National Opera.

Laci Boldemann’s Opera Black Is White, Said the Emperor

We normally think of operas as being serious or comical. But a number of operas-some familiar, others forgotten-are neither of these. Instead, they are fantastical, dealing with such things as the fairy world and sorcerers, or with the world of dreams.

A volcanic Elektra by the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic

“There are no gods in heaven!” sings Elektra just before her brother Orest kills their mother. In the Greek plays about the cursed House of Atreus the Olympian gods command the banished Orestes to return home and avenge his father Agamemnon’s murder at the hands of his wife Clytemnestra. He dispatches both her and her lover Aegisthus.

Così fan tutte: Opera Holland Park

Absence makes the heart grow fonder; or does it? In Così fan tutte, who knows? Or rather, what could such a question even mean?

The poignancy of triviality: Garsington Opera's Capriccio

“Wort oder Ton?” asks Richard Strauss’s final opera, Capriccio. The Countess answers with a question of her own, at the close of this self-consciously self-reflective Konversationstück für Musik: “Gibt es einen, der nicht trivail ist?” (“Is there any ending that isn’t trivial?”)

Netia Jones' new Die Zauberflöte opens Garsington Opera's 2018 season

“These portals, these columns prove/that wisdom, industry and art reside here.” So says Tamino, as he gazes up at the three imposing doors in the centre of Netia Jones’ replica of the 18th-century Wormsley Park House - in the grounds of which Garsington Opera’s ‘floating’ Pavilion makes its home each summer.

Feverish love at Opera Holland Park: a fine La traviata opens the 2018 season

If there were any doubts that it was soon to be curtains for Verdi’s titular, tubercular heroine then the tortured gasps of laboured, languishing breath which preceded Rodula Gaitanou’s new production of La traviata for Opera Holland Park would have swiftly served to dispel them.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Rolando Villazón as Hoffmann and Christine Rice as Giuletta (Photo by Bill Cooper courtesy of Royal Opera House)
28 Nov 2008

The Tales of Hoffmann at Covent Garden

The opening performance of the ROH’s seventh revival of John Schlesinger’s 1980 production of The Tales of Hoffmann was dedicated to the memory of Richard Hickox.

Jacques Offenbach: The Tales of Hoffmann

Hoffmann (Rolando Villazón); Lindorf (Villain) (Gidon Saks); Coppélius (Villain) (Gidon Saks); Dappertutto (Villain) (Gidon Saks); Miracle (Villain) (Gidon Saks); Nicklausse (Kristine Jepson); Andrès (Servant) (Graham Clark); Cochenille (Servant) (Graham Clark); Pittichinaccio (Servant) (Graham Clark); Frantz (Servant) (Graham Clark); Olympia (Ekaterina Lekhina/Vassiliki Karayanni); Giuletta (Christine Rice); Antonia (Katie Van Kooten); Spalanzani (Robin Leggate); Schlemil (Kostas Smoriginas); Crespel (Matthew Rose); Luther (Lynton Black); Hermann (Changhan Lim); Nathanael (Ji-Min Park); Voice of Antonia's Mother (Gaynor Keeble). The Royal Opera. Conductor: Anthony Pappano. Original Production: John Schlesinger. Revival Director: Christopher Cowell. Set Designs: William Dudley.

Above: Rolando Villazón as Hoffmann and Christine Rice as Giuletta

All photos by Bill Cooper courtesy of Royal Opera House

 

Hickox, who died suddenly on Sunday, had conducted the 2004 revival of this opera, the production in which Rolando Villazón created a sensation in the title role and instantly became a household name.

Returning to the role, one which is a gift to such a versatile and committed character player, Villazón seemed older and wiser: more mature in his interpretation, instantly establishing his presence with the inebriate bluster of the Prologue’s Kleinzach song but equally comfortable with the nostalgic reveries of the Epilogue; and more astute in his pacing, somewhat restrained at the start but sensibly conserving his voice, relaxing and releasing a tone of warmth and ardour in the final scenes.

Hoffmann_ROH_05.pngKatie Van Kooten as Antonia
The production itself cannot be said to have made the same graceful passage to maturity. The revival director, Christopher Cowell, has retained the original Personenregie, with scarcely a fresh gesture. And, the old sets looked tired and fussy, even tawdrily camp: sumptuously extravagant and evocative of the opera’s various locations they may be, but the accumulation of superfluous detail results in a rather dated literalism — the ‘real’ gondola, the giant ‘floating’ bed and miles of vermillion velvet hammer home their points but leave little room for subtlety or imaginative nuance. Hoffmann’s original short stories combine artistry and grotesquery, sparkling glitter and dark, ponderous depths; yet this production seldom scratches beneath the surface, frequently lapsing into gratuitous, pantomimic clichés.

This was a solid rather than a stunning cast. Of the female roles, Ekaterina Lekhina as Olympia was the audience favourite although this listener found her rather underwhelming; but she was jerkily, jitteringly suggestive of a soulless automaton, and certainly conquered the vocal peaks with confidence and accuracy of intonation, although there was little sense of continuity of line as she scaled the precipices. Katie van Kooten was an impressive Antonia, her radiant upper range strong and clear, although underneath the intonation was sometimes suspect and marred by unfocused note production. Christine Rice’s Guilietta was an intelligent, dramatically convincing performance, the powerful lower register of her resonant dark mezzo delightfully sensuous, perfectly conveying the courtesan’s allure. However, at times she overpowered Villazón in their duet textures, for while his high-lying lines were delivered with cleanness and panache, he was more subdued in the lower registers. Moreover, the erotic intertwining of the intended soprano and mezzo timbres in Guilietta’s duet with Niklausse, another mezzo, were diminished. Indeed, despite Rice’s intelligent portrayal, the Venetian act was the least successful; the assorted writhing couples languorously scattered about the opulent milieu evoked little genuine sensuality, and the whole lacked dramatic tension.

In the dual role of Niklausse/Muse, Kristine Jepson’s bright, animated tone projected well. Jepson has much stage confidence and natural ease; and she established an engaging relationship with Villazón which would have benefited from more sensitive and encouraging direction.

Hoffmann_ROH_02.pngRolando Villazón as Hoffmann and Ekaterina Lekhina as Olympia

Gidon Saks was a pantomime villain and rather underpowered nemesis. While his Act 2 Dr Miracle oozed menace and malevolence, both characterisation and projection weakened in the later stages of the opera. The veteran character tenor, Graham Clark, had tremendous fun in his multiple roles as the four servants, raising many a laugh; but his grotesque shrieks and exaggerated affectations destroyed the poignancy of Hoffmann’s demise.

The minor roles were uniformly compelling: Matthew Rose was Crespel, Robin Leggate, Spalanzani, and Gaynor Keeble, the spirit of Stella’s mother. Kostas Smoriginas was a commanding Schlemil.

Antonio Pappano led the orchestra of the ROH on a competent, but rather pedestrian passage through the score, with little feeling for the delicate touch and deft subtleties of French frivolity. The orchestral playing was often heavy and sluggish, and even the renowned Barcarolle lacked shimmer and transparency. Overall, Pappano created little energy and forward momentum; and occasionally the pit-stage ensemble was insecure, particularly in the choruses.

Hoffmann_ROH_04.pngRolando Villazón as Hoffmann and Gidon Saks as Coppélius

So, this was Rolando Villazón’s evening. There have been endless musicological speculations about missing, eliminated, reconstructed and re-positioned material. Here the Venetian Act was placed second, making nonsense of Hoffmann’s progression from hope of first material, then unworldly, fulfilment to disillusionment and despair. Thus, this production relied on its Hoffmann to unite the self-contained acts and to provide continuity and credibility. While some might complain that Villazón’s acting was at times overly frenetic and hyperactive, there is no doubt that his commitment to the role is absolute: and he conveyed Hoffmann's descent from youthful naïf to alcoholic cynic with total conviction. If Villazón took a little while to warm up vocally, this is understandable given the stamina required for such sustained musical and dramatic commitment. And, in the concluding moments, the slightly guarded tone of the earlier acts blossomed into a radiating timbre of myriad colours. Just what the audience had been waiting for.

Claire Seymour

Hoffmann_ROH_06.pngA scene from The Tales of Hoffmann

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):