Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Handel's Brockes-Passion: The Academy of Ancient Music at the Barbican Hall

Perhaps it is too fanciful to suggest that the German poet Barthold Heinrich Brockes (1680-1747) was the Metastasio of Hamburg?

POP Butterfly: Oooh, Cho-Cho San!

I was decidedly not the only one who thought I was witnessing the birth of a new star, as cover artist Janet Todd stepped in to make a triumphant appearance in the title role of Pacific Opera Project’s absorbing Madama Butterfly.

The Maryland Opera Studio Defies Genre with Fascinating Double-Bill

This past weekend, the Maryland Opera Studio (MOS) presented a double-billed performance of two of Kurt Weill’s less familiar staged works: Zaubernacht (1922) and Mahagonny-Songspiel (1927).

Nash Ensemble at Wigmore Hall: Focus on Sir Harrison Birtwistle

The Nash Ensemble’s annual contemporary music showcase focused on the work of Sir Harrison Birtwistle, a composer with whom the group has enjoyed a long and close association. Three of the six works by Birtwistle performed here were commissioned by the Nash Ensemble, as was Elliott Carter’s Mosaic which, alongside Oliver Knussen’s Study for ‘Metamorphosis’ for solo bassoon, completed a programme was intimate and intricate, somehow both elusive in spirit and richly communicative.

McVicar's Faust returns to the ROH

To lose one Marguerite may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose two looks like carelessness. But, with the ROH Gounod’s Faust seemingly heading for ruin, salvation came in the form of an eleventh-hour arrival of a redeeming ‘angel’.

A superb Semele from the English Concert at the Barbican Hall

It’s good to aim high … but be careful what you wish for. Clichéd idioms perhaps, but also wise words which Semele would have been wise to heed.

A performance of Vivaldi's La Senna festeggiante by Arcangelo

In 1726 on 25 August, Jacques-Vincent Languet, Comte de Gergy, the new French ambassador to the Venetian Republic held a celebration for the name day of King Louis XV of France. There was a new piece of music performed in the loggia at the foot of Languet's garden with an audience of diplomats and, watching from gondolas, Venetian nobles.

Matthew Rose and Tom Poster at Wigmore Hall

An interesting and thoughtfully-composed programme this, presented at Wigmore Hall by bass Matthew Rose and pianist Tom Poster, and one in which music for solo piano ensured that the diverse programme cohered.

Ekaterina Semenchuk sings Glinka and Tchaikovsky

To the Wigmore Hall for an evening of magnificently old-school vocal performance from Ekaterina Semenchuk. It was very much her evening, rather than that of her pianist, Semyon Skigin, though he had his moments, especially earlier on.

Hubert Parry's Judith at the Royal Festival Hall

Caravaggio’s depiction (1598-99) of the climactic moment when the young, beautiful, physically weak Judith seizes the head of Holofernes by the enemy general’s hair and, flinching with distaste, cleaves the neck of the occupying Assyrian with his own sword, evokes Holofernes’ terror with visceral precision - eyes and screaming mouth are wide open - and is shockingly theatrical, the starkly lit figures embraced by blackness.

La Pietà in Rome

Say "La Pietà" and you think immediately of Michelangelo’s Rome Pietà. Just now Roman Oscar-winning film composer Nicola Piovani has asked us to contemplate two additional Pietà’s in Rome, a mother whose son is dead by overdose, and a mother whose son starved to death.

Orfeo ed Euridice in Rome

No wrecked motorcycle (director Harry Kupfer’s 1987 Berlin Orfeo), no wrecked Citroen and black hearse (David Alagna’s 2008 Montpellier Orfée [yes! tenorissimo Roberto Alagna was the Orfée]), no famed ballet company (the Joffrey Ballet) starring in L.A. Opera’s 2018 Orpheus and Eurydice).

Jack the Ripper: The Women of Whitechapel - a world premiere at English National Opera

Jack the Ripper is as luridly fascinating today as he was over a century ago, so it was no doubt sensationalist of the marketing department of English National Opera to put the Victorian serial killer’s name first and the true subject of Iain Bell’s new opera - his victims, the women of Whitechapel - as something of an after-thought. Font size matters, especially if it’s to sell tickets.

Tosca at the Met


The 1917 Met Tosca production hung around for 50 years, bested by the 1925 San Francisco Opera production that lived to the ripe old age of 92.  The current Met production is just 2 years old but has the feel of something that can live forever.

Drama Queens and Divas at the ROH: Handel's Berenice

A war ‘between love and politics’: so librettist Antonio Salvi summarised the conflict at the heart of Handel’s 1737 opera, Berenice. Well, we’ve had a surfeit of warring politics of late, but there’s been little love lost between opposing factions, and the laughs that director Adele Thomas and her team supply in this satirical and spicy production at the ROH’s stunningly re-designed Linbury Theatre have been in severely short supply.

Mozart’s Mass in C minor at the Royal Festival Hall

A strange concert, this, in that, although chorally conceived, it proved strongest in the performance of Schumann’s Piano Concerto: not so much a comment on the choral singing as on the conducting of Dan Ludford-Thomas.

Samson et Dalila at the Met


It was the final performance of the premiere season of Darko Tresnjak’s production of Camille Saint-Saëns' Samson et Dalila. Four tenors later. 

The Enchantresse and Dido and Aeneas
in Lyon

Dido and Aeneas, Il ritorno d’Ulisse and Tchaikowsky’s L’Enchantresse, the three operas of the Opéra de Lyon’s annual late March festival all tease destiny. But far more striking than the thematic relationship that motivates this 2019 festival is the derivation of these three productions from the world of hyper-refined theater, far flung hyper-refined theater.

The devil shares the good tunes: Chelsea Opera Group's Mefistofele

Every man ‘who burns with a thirst for knowledge and life and with curiosity about the nature of good and evil is Faust ... [everyone] who aspires to the Unknown, to the Ideal, is Faust’.

La forza del destino at Covent Garden

Prima la music, poi la parole? It’s the perennial operatic conundrum which has exercised composers from Monteverdi, to Salieri, to Strauss. But, on this occasion we were reminded that sometimes the answer is a simple one: Non, prima le voci!

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Matthew Polenzani as Hoffmann and Anna Christy as Olympia [Photo by Dan Rest courtesy of Lyric Opera of Chicago]
09 Nov 2011

Tales of Hoffmann, Chicago

For its first production of the new season, Jacques Offenbach’s Les Contes d’Hoffmann, Lyric Opera of Chicago assembled a distinguished roster of soloists with the Lyric Opera Orchestra under the direction of Emmanuel Villaume.

Jacques Offenbach: Tales of Hoffmann

Click here for cast and other production information.

Above: Matthew Polenzani as Hoffmann and Anna Christy as Olympia

Photos by Dan Rest courtesy of Lyric Opera of Chicago

 

Those characters populating the stage from start to finish include an incarnation of the writer Hoffmann and his Muse, the latter figure appearing also as the confidante Niklausse. Hoffmann’s recurring nemeses, or the villains of individual acts, add of course to the sense of continuity throughout the piece. The lead roles in this production are strongly cast with Matthew Polenzani as Hoffmann, Emily Fons as the Muse/ Niklausse, and James Morris assuming the personae of Hoffmann’s opponents.

Hoffmann_Chicago_2011_04.gifAlyson Cambridge as Giulietta and Matthew Polenzani as Hoffmann

As in comparable productions of Offenbach’s late opera the prologue and first act are performed together. At the start of the prologue in this conception pantomimic gestures show the inebriated Hoffmann being helped from the stage by his Muse, just as Councillor Lindorf assumes his position before a backdrop at the center. Lindorf’s rivalry with Hoffmann is now focused on the diva Stella who currently sings in a local production of Mozart’s Don Giovanni. As Lindorf bribes the diva’s servant to surrender a communication intended for Hoffmann, the Councillor assures that he has the advantage of a devilish spirit with an extended pitch on ”diable.” In opposition to the “poète” Morris concludes his self-declaration with an effectively declaimed “je suis vif.” This scene is effective not only as a motivation for Hoffmann’s relating his amorous adventures but also as a key to the opera’s conclusion when Stella indeed leaves the stage accompanied by Lindorf.

During the remainder of the prologue the scene takes place in Luther’s tavern. The collected male students, portrayed in a large tableau by the Lyric Opera Chorus, are clearly inspired during intermission at the neighboring opera and raise toasts to Stella. Once Hoffmann and Niklausse appear at the tavern, the repartee with the students leads to Hoffmann’s well-known chanson about the dwarf Kleinzach. As Hoffmann describes in his ballad the face of Kleinzach his mind wanders to focus on his love for Stella. In this mixture of musical styles and the subsequent veneration of Stella, Polenzani interspersed a clear sense of legato with lyrical outbursts sung forte (“figure,” “trois âmes dans une seule âme”) and showing exquisite control of pitch. In his final cresting declaration before the close of the prologue Polenzani introduces vocally Hoffmann’s emotional state in preparation for the narratives of the following acts. (“Du bon sens”)

Hoffmann_Chicago_2011_02.gifEmily Fons as Nicklausse and Matthew Polenzani as Hoffmann

In each of these subsequent acts an amorous entanglement leads to hope and disappointment. The female objects of Hoffmann’s infatuation, Olympia, Antonia, and Giulietta, are sung in this production by Anna Christy, Erin Wall, and Alyson Cambridge. As Hoffmann first steals a glance at the mechanical doll Olympia in Act I, Polenzani’s lyrical technique bloomed yet further beyond his singing in the prologue. He sang at times piano with an effective use of diminuendo as he described his devotion to the study of physics primarily as a means to approaching the professor’s daughter Olympia. These lines became even more credible for the persona of Hoffmann as Polenzani’s characterization was delineated with effortless top notes. Before the doll sings her famous aria Niklausse arrives and comments on Hoffmann’s delusion and emotional distraction. Here Ms. Fons sang her first solo piece with lyrical ease and presented an amusing caricature of the doll as she mimicked it both vocally and with her own physically lithe gestures. Hoffmann refuses to heed common sense and listens enraptured to the doll Olympia’s voice. In this role Ms. Christy excelled at combining a bright upper register in her melodic line with skillful coloratura decoration. At the same time she sang in the spirit of the character so that her voice took on the mechanical quality which her body communicated through gestures, as she performed fixed in a rotating movable base. In his response to Olympia’s movements and speech Polenzani depicts Hoffmann lost in his passion while he casts off volleys of lyrical devotion. As Olympia’s identity is finally revealed Polenzani concluded the act together with the chorus in alternating cries of “Un automate” sung forte and with absolute control of pitch.

In Act II the characters Antonia, her father Crespel, and the voice of her deceased mother contribute to Hoffmann’s second involvement. Erin Wall sang a touching rendition of Antonia’s wistful opening romance, “Elle a fui” [“She has flown away”]. Ms. Wall varied her approach so that her softest notes blended fittingly with more dramatic and fully voiced lines. In the role of Crespel bass-baritone Christian Van Horn made a strong impression as Antonia’s protective father. As he implored his weakened child to sing no longer, even the simple phrase “Je t’en prie” [“I beg of you”] was infused by Mr. Van Horn with memorable resonance. When Hoffmann and Niklausse enter on this scene, the servant Frantz — sung her by Rodell Rosel with comic delight — is alone, having just finished a pantominic dance. Hoffmann begs to be admitted to his beloved Antonia’s presence, a meeting which Frantz has been forbidden to allow. In the following series of set pieces the characters reflect on both the role of love and on their own emotions. As one of the highlights of this productions Ms. Fons sang the second aria for Niklausse while she tries to persuade Hoffmann to devote himself to love as art (“Vois sous l’archet frémissant” [“See beneath the quivering bow”]). Fons used her voice with its secure low notes to great effect in expressing the dominant spirit of “l’amour vainqueur,” just as she concluded the aria by drawing on the exciting upper extension of her range. Niklausse makes himself scarce at the reappearance of Antonia who now finally sings together with Hoffmann. In their duet Wall and Polenzani showed refined passagework, their voices moving apart and, again, in unison with emotional commitment. At the entrance of Dr. Miracle, sung by Morris, Crespel expresses great concern for his daughter’s well-being. Ultimately Antonia succumbs to the persuasions of Dr. Miracle and to the voice of her dead mother, sung here with resonance and authority by mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton in her debut at Lyric Opera. When Hoffmann attempts to summon help, his beloved Antonia has already died.

Hoffmann_Chicago_2011_03.gifErin Wall as Antonia and James Morris as Dr Miracle

The final involvement in the protagonist’s series of adventures carries him to Giulietta’s palazzo in Venice. At the start of the final act she and Niklausse sing the famous barcarolle; in this performance both voices were distinctly audible as though both were woven into the melody. The signature bass aria, “Scintille, diamante,” sung by Dapertutto to tempt Giulietta, was sung by Morris with an attentive sense of line. Ms. Cambridge fulfills well the vocal and dramatic challenges of her role, yet at times her use of vibrato can lead to stylization.

In the epilogue to the opera Hoffmann has finished the narration of his tales and is found, inebriated, together with the Muse. Even though Stella from the prologue now appears for the assignation and leaves in the company of a triumphant Lindorf, the audience presumes that Hoffmann will awaken in the confident realm of Poetry.

Salvatore Calomino

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):