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 Performances

La bohème, LA Opera

On May 25, 2016, Los Angeles Opera presented a revival of the Herbert Ross production of Giacomo Puccini’s opera, La bohème. Stage director, Peter Kazaras, made use of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion’s wide stage by setting some scenes usually seen inside the garret on the surrounding roof instead.

Amazons Enchant San Francisco

On May 21, 2016, Ars Minerva presented The Amazons in the Fortunate Isles (Le Amazzoni nelle Isole Fortunate), an opera consisting of a prologue and three acts by seventeenth century Venetian composer Carlo Pallavicino.

Mathis der Maler, Dresden

While Pegida anti-refugee demonstrations have been taking place for a while now in Dresden, there was something noble about the Semperoper with its banners declaring all are welcome, listing Othello, the Turk, and the hedon Papageno as examples.

The Makropulos Case, Munich

Opera houses’ neglect of Leoš Janáček remains one of the most baffling of the many baffling aspects of the ‘repertoire’. At least three of the composer’s operas would be perfect introductions to the art form: Jenůfa, Katya Kabanova, or The Cunning Little Vixen would surely hook most for life.

Orphée et Euridice, Seattle

It’s not easy for critics to hit the right note when they write about musical collaborations between students and professionals. We have to allow for inevitable lack of polish and inexperience while maintaining an overall high standard of judgment.

Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, Munich

Die Meistersinger at the theatre in which it was premiered, on Wagner’s birthday: an inviting prospect by any standards, still more so given the director, conductor, and cast, still more so given the opportunity to see three different productions within little more than a couple of months).

Il barbiere di Siviglia at Glyndebourne

Director Annabel Arden believes that Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia is ‘all about playfulness, theatricality, light and movement’. It’s certainly ‘about’ those things and they are, as Arden suggests, ‘based in the music’.

Oedipe at Covent Garden

George Enescu’s Oedipe was premiered in Paris 1936 but it has taken 80 years for the opera to reach the stage of Covent Garden. This production by Àlex Ollé (a member of the Catalan theatrical group, La Fura Dels Baus) and Valentina Carrasco, which arrives in London via La Monnaie where it was presented in 2011, was eagerly awaited and did not disappoint.

Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette at Lyric Opera, Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago staged Charles Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette as the last opera in its current subscription season.

L’incoronazione di Poppea, RAO

‘The plot is perhaps the least moral in all opera; wrong triumphs in the name of love and we are not expected to mind.’

Madame Butterfly , ENO

Anthony Minghella’s production of Madame Butterfly for ENO is wearing well. First seen in 2005, it is now being aired for the sixth time and is still, as I observed in 2013, ‘a breath-taking visual banquet’.

Valiant but tentative: La straniera at the Concertgebouw

This concert version of La straniera felt like a compulsory musicology field trip, but it had enough vocal flashes to lobby for more frequent performances of this midway Bellini.

London Festival of Baroque Music 2016: Words with Purcell

As poetry is the harmony of words, so music is that of notes; and as poetry is a rise above prose and oratory, so is music the exaltation of poetry.

The Dark Mirror: Zender’s Winterreise

From experiments with musique concrète in the 1940s, to the Minimalists’ explorations into tape-loop effects in the 1960s, via the appearance of hip-hop in the 1970s and its subsequent influence on electronic dance music in the 1980s, to digital production methods today, ‘sampling’ techniques have been employed by musicians working in genres as diverse as jazz fusion, psychedelic rock and classical music.

Great Scott Wows San Diego

On May 7, 2016, San Diego Opera presented the West Coast premiere of Great Scott, an opera by Terrence McNally and Jake Heggie. McNally’s original libretto pokes fun at everything from football to bel canto period opera. It includes snippets of nineteenth century tunes as well as Heggie's own bel canto writing.

Bellini’s Adelson e Salvini, London

A foiled abduction, a castle-threatening inferno, romantic infatuation, guilt-laden near-suicide, gun-shots and knife-blows: Andrea Leone Tottola’s libretto for Vincenzo Bellini’s first opera, Adelson e Salvini, certainly does not lack dramatic incident.

Manitoba Opera: Of Mice and Men

Opera as an art form has never shied away from the grittier shadows of life. Nor has Manitoba Opera, with its recent past productions dealing with torture, incest, murder and desperate political prisoners still so tragically relevant today.

The Rose and the Ring

Published in 1855 as an entertainment for his two daughters, William Makepeace Thackeray’s The Rose and the Ring is a burlesque fairy-tale whose plot — to the author’s wilful delight, perhaps — defies summation and elucidation.

The Lighthouse at San Francisco’s Opera Parallèle

What more fitting memorial for composer Peter Maxwell Davies (d. 03/14/2016) than a splendid performance of The Lighthouse, the third of his eight works for the stage.

King’s Consort at Wigmore Hall

I suspect that many of those at the Wigmore Hall for The King’s Consort’s performance of the La Senna festeggiante (The Rejoicing Seine) were lured by the cachet of ‘Antonio Vivaldi’ and further enticed by the notion of a lover’s serenade at which the generic term ‘serenata’ seems to hint.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Paul Groves (Hoffmann) and Erin Wall (Giulietta) [Photo by Ken Howard courtesy of Santa Fe Opera]
22 Jul 2010

Hoffmann Takes A Hit In Santa Fe

Despite its length and pretentions to being serious opera, Jacques Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann, dating from the 1880s, remains a leaky vessel adrift on a sea of self-fulfilling prophesies of doom.

Jacques Offenbach: Tales of Hoffmann

Stella / Olympia: Erin Wall; Antonia / Giulietta: Erin Wall; Nicklausse: Kate Lindsey; Voice of Antonia's Mother: Jill Grove; Hoffmann: Paul Groves; Spalanzani: Mark Schowalter; Lindorf / Coppelius: Wayne Tigges; Dr. Miracle / Dapertutto: Wayne Tigges; Andres / Cochenille: David Cangelosi; Frantz / Pittichinaccio: David Cangelosi; Crespel / Luther: Harold Wilson. Conductor: Stephen Lord. Director: Christopher Alden. Scenic Designer: Allen Moyer. Costume Designer: Constance Hoffman. Lighting Designer: Pat Collins.

Above: Paul Groves as Hoffmann and Erin Wall as Giulietta

All photos by Ken Howard courtesy of Santa Fe Opera

 

While gifted with some lovely melodic writing and opportunities for grand operatic singing, the story of a depressed alcoholic poet (“he never drinks water,” one line has it), and his tales of futile amorous adventure often seem over-stuffed with dialogue and redundant action. This opera is expensive and difficult to produce, and in the end bears only a negative message.

Just what Hoffmann’s message is has long been a subject of discussion. My view is that once the pretty surface of melody and musical charm is peeled back, below lies only vegetable cellulose, or nothing much. Some will argue that romantic fantasy is at the core of the piece; others find 19th century existential angst; Richard Wagner condemned it for a lack of “moral” value. I would tend to express it more in terms of the bad psychology of a neurotically disturbed man who through the confusions of alcohol and dissipation dooms his own romantic ambitions. However any of that may be, it is best to take Hoffmann as an exercise in visual pleasure and melodic delight — if there are singers and producers to make it happen, and a producer and music director to give it a light and stylish touch.

_MG_4874.gifErin Wall as Antonia

In Santa Fe Opera’s heavy-handed production, the show turned out to be badly cast and suffocatingly over-produced. None of the singers was adequate to the task at hand; the voices were minor or flawed. The leading tenor, Paul Groves, the key figure in the opera, who looked and played well, seemed to have no upper register and was often short on volume. Professional that he is, Groves soldiered through, but he was far from the real thing, in this most lyrical of big French tenor parts.

Canadian soprano Erin Wall assumed the neigh-impossible task of singing the three major soprano roles the opera requires, the coloratura doll of Act I, Olympia, the lyric soprano of Act II, Antonia and the soprano or mezzo part of the Venetian courtesan, Giulietta, in Act III. She did not have the light agility or highest tones required by Olympia, as Santa Fe’s management must surely have known, and thus it seems a decision was made to turn her Olympia into Gilbert & Sullivan camp — if she did not have the clean runs or pin-point high notes, well mark it up to technical difficulties in her manufacturer Spalanzani’s design. All in good fun? Ho hum. In later acts Wall fared better, and demonstrated a solid top, through high-C, as Antonia though not much tonal allure or play of color; her voice seemed to thicken under pressure, which was much of the time. As an actress Wall was never more than bland.

_MG_4336.gifKate Lindsey as Nicklausse, Wayne Tigges as Councilor Lindorf and Students

The only other singer I will address now is the bass-baritone Wayne Tigges, a last minute replacement for an ailing colleague in the all-consuming and vocally demanding roles of Offenbach’s four villains, who are in every scene, with much to sing, and comprise the engine that drives the thrust of “evil” though the show — that is quite aside from demon rum. Tigges proved a boy sent to do a man’s job, and while earnest and hard-working he did not have the magnetic personality or force or maturity of voice to claim the part. He needs coaching in menace with John Malcovich.

With an inadequate tenor and bass, and soprano who was short on stage charisma and vocal interest, Offenbach’s score was not well-served. I have to say, and am sorry to do so, that Stephen Lord, music director of Opera Theatre of St. Louis, was a cut-and-dried conductor in the pit. While his orchestra played well enough, far too often Maestro Lord’s direction lacked vitality, dragged where it should have sparkled, left dead moments and, in general, lacked shape, flow and accent. Disappointing.

Now we come to Santa Fe’s stage producer, one of the most famous bad-boys of opera, Christopher Alden — who fully lived up to his reputation. I am going to keep this short — who needs a list of horrors? Alden’s direction was everywhere fussy and mannered, secondary characters moved in slow motion, slithered across the stage floor, pranced about their heads in picture frames, joined hands in a merry trio of dancing — and so on, endlessly. In the final moments of Act II, gilded high-style Second Empire opera boxes emerged from stage right holding an audience eager to applaud the diva Antonia, who had expired moments before. Ah so! We were watching a play within a play (who knew?) — and the Second Act, which Offenbach had already provided with an unnecessary anti-climax following Antonia’s death, offered yet another development as Antonia arose from the dead and took her bows. Now, let’s see, where did that plot go?

_MG_5563.gifPaul Groves as Hoffmann, Kate Lindsey as Nicklausse, Wayne Tigges as Captain Dapertutto, Erin Wall as Giulietta, David Cangelosi as Pitichinaccio and Darik Knutsen as Peter Schlémil (standing)

Costumes? Elegant, lavish with Victorian flounces, bustles and ruffles everywhere. Set? Not bad, actually: it all transpired in Luther’s Tavern, a high handsome room with five massive beams across the ceiling, a dark wood dado around the room and white plastered walls that showed off various plaques and hangings. Platforms with minimal trappings for scenes following the Tavern’s opening one (the Kleinsach scene), were brought in and out; they proved effective, and in the Venetian scene featured a massive painting in the style of Turner depicting the grand canal. It worked!

Maybe we will write more about all this later in the season; these things have a way of ripening, and several of the secondary players deserve attention for some were excellent. For now SFO’s Tales of Hoffmann is a game hardly worth the candle.

© 2010 James A. Van Sant/Santa Fe

Click here for a contrary opinion.

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):