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

The Merchant of Venice: WNO at Covent Garden

In Out of Africa, her account of her Kenyan life, Karen Blixen relates an anecdote, ‘Farah and The Merchant of Venice’. When Blixen told Farah Aden, her Somali butler, the story of Shakespeare’s play, he was disappointed and surprised by the denouement: surely, he argued, the Jew Shylock could have succeeded in his bond if he had used a red-hot knife? As an African, Farah expected a different narrative, demonstrating that our reception of art depends so much on our assumptions and preconceptions.

Leoncavallo's Zazà at Investec Opera Holland Park

The make-up is slapped on thickly in this new production of Leoncavallo’s Zazà by director Marie Lambert and designer Alyson Cummings at Investec Opera Holland Park.

McVicar’s Enchanting but Caliginous Rigoletto in Castle Olavinlinna at Savonlinna Opera Festival

David McVicar’s thrilling take on Verdi’s Rigoletto premiered as the first international production of this Summer’s Savonlinna Opera Festival. The scouts for the festival made the smart decision to let McVicar adapt his 2001 Covent Garden staging to the unique locale of Castle Olavinlinna.

Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance at Covent Garden

The end of the ROH’s summer season was marked as usual by the Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance but this year’s showcase was a little lacklustre at times.

Sallinen’s Kullervo is Brutal and Spectacular Finnish Opera at Savonlinna Opera Festival

For the centenary of Finland’s Independence, the Savonlinna Opera Festival brought back Kari Heiskanen’s spectacular 1992 production of Aulis Salinen’s Kullervo. The excellent Finnish soloists and glorious choir unflinchingly offered this opera of vocal blood and guts. Conductor Hannu Lintu fired up the Savonlinna Opera Festival Orchestra in Sallinen’s thrilling music.

Kát’a Kabanová at Investec Opera Holland Park

If there was any doubt of the insignificance of mankind in the face of the forces of Nature, then Yannis Thavoris’ design for Olivia Fuchs production of Janáček’s Kát’a Kabanová - first seen at Investec Opera Holland Park in 2009 - would puncture it in a flash, figuratively and literally.

A bel canto feast at Cadogan Hall

The bel canto repertoire requires stylish singing, with beautiful tone and elegant phrasing. Strength must be allied with grace in order to coast the vocal peaks with unflawed legato; flexibility blended with accuracy ensures the most bravura passages are negotiated with apparent ease.

Don Pasquale: a cold-hearted comedy at Glyndebourne

Director Mariame Clément’s Don Pasquale, first seen during the 2011 tour and staged in the house in 2013, treads a fine line between realism and artifice.

Billy Budd Indomitable in Des Moines

It is hard to know where to begin to praise the peerless accomplishment that is Des Moines Metro Opera’s staggeringly powerful Billy Budd.

Tannhäuser at Munich

Romeo Castellucci’s aesthetic — if one may speak in the singular — is very different from almost anything else on show in the opera house at the moment. That, I have no doubt, is unquestionably a good thing. Castellucci is a serious artist and it is all too easy for any of us to become stuck in an artistic rut, congratulating ourselves not only on our understanding but also,  may God help us, our ‘taste’ — as if so trivial a notion had something to do with anything other than ourselves.

Des Moines Answers Turandot’s Riddles

With Turandot, Des Moines Metro Opera operated from the premise of prima la voce, and if the no-holds-barred singing and rhapsodic playing didn’t send shivers down your spine, well, you were at the wrong address.

Maria Visits Des Moines

With an atmospheric, crackling performance of Astor Piazzolla’s Maria de Buenos Aires, Des Moines Metro Opera once again set off creative sparks with its Second Stage concept.

Die schöne Müllerin: Davies and Drake provoke fresh thoughts at Middle Temple Hall

Schubert wrote Die schöne Müllerin (1824) for a tenor (or soprano) range - that of his own voice. Wilhelm Müller’s poems depict the youthful unsophistication of a country lad who, wandering with carefree unworldliness besides a burbling stream, comes upon a watermill, espies the miller’s fetching daughter and promptly falls in love - only to be disillusioned when she spurns him for a virile hunter. So, perhaps the tenor voice possesses the requisite combination of lightness and yearning to convey this trajectory from guileless innocence to disenchantment and dejection.

World Premiere of Aulis Sallinen’s Castle in the Water Savonlinna Opera Festival

For my first trip to Finland, I flew from Helsinki to the east, close to the border of Russia near St. Petersburg over many of Suomi’s thousand lakes, where the summer getaway Savonlinna lays. Right after the solstice during July and early August, the town’s opera festival offers high quality productions. In this enchanting locale in the midst of peaceful nature, the sky at dusk after the mesmerising sunset fades away is worth the trip alone!

Mozart and Stravinsky in Aix

Bathed in Mediterranean light, basking in enlightenment Aix found two famous classical works, Mozart’s Don Giovanni and Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress in its famous festival’s open air Théâtre de l’Archevêche. But were we enlightened?

Des Moines: Nothing ‘Little’ About Night Music

Des Moines Metro Opera’s richly detailed production of Sondheim’s A Little Night Music left an appreciative audience to waltz home on air, and has prompted this viewer to search for adequate superlatives.

Longborough Festival Opera: A World Class Tristan und Isolde in a Barn Shed

Of all the places, I did not expect a sublime Tristan und Isolde in a repurposed barn in the Cotswolds. Don’t be fooled by Longborough’s stage without lavish red curtains to open and close each act. Any opera house would envy the riveting chemistry between Peter Wedd and Lee Bisset in this intimate, 500 seat setting. Conductor Anthony Negus proved himself a master at Wagner’s emotional depth. Epic drama in minimalistic elegance: who needs a big budget when you have talent and drama this passionate?

The Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra throws a glossy Bernstein party

For almost thirty years, summer at the Concertgebouw has been synonymous with Robeco SummerNights. This popular series expands the classical concert formula with pop, film music, jazz and more, served straight up or mixed together. Composer Leonard Bernstein’s versatility makes his oeuvre, ranging from Broadway to opera, prime SummerNight fare.

Die Frau ohne Schatten at Munich

It was fascinating to see — and of course, to hear — Krzysztof Warlikowsi’s productions of Die Gezeichneten and Die Frau ohne Schatten on consecutive nights of this year’s Munich Opera Festival.

Dulwich Opera’s Carmen

Dulwich Opera Company’s Carmen was a convincingly successful show.  This was mainly due to succinct musical direction and rigorous dramatic direction.  It also meant that the proximity of the action was a fascinating treat, and by the artists being young, and easy on the eye.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

John Osborn as Hoffmann [Photo © Jean-Pierre Maurin]
07 Jan 2014

Les Contes d'Hoffmann in Lyon

Maybe there can be no bigger feat than making it through Les Contes d’Hoffmann in the Laurent Pelly version without a hitch or two.

Les Contes d'Hoffmann in Lyon

A review by Michael Milenski

Above: John Osborn as Hoffmann [Photo © Jean-Pierre Maurin]

 

There were in fact two just now in the Opéra de Lyon remounting of its 2005 production of Hoffmann, both collective hitches.

Not only has Mr. Pelly created a figurative nightmare, he has created a technical nightmare as well. The usual four sets — the tavern, the workshop, the bedroom, the salon — morph into thirty or forty or so scenes, a seemingly countless progression of scenic moments that evolve through the unfolding of Hoffmann’s narration in dream form. And the dream is a bad one in which the macabre surreal is suspended in abstract, dark space.

The Pelly concept is complex indeed. Not for a moment does Pelly allow us to forget that human motivations push the bizarre psychological and philosophical impulses of E.T.A. Hoffmann’s morbid tales. He accomplishes this by making us watch smart, strong stagehands push and pull walls and platforms and operate machines that transport Pelly’s phantoms through the dream world he has created for Offenbach’s opera.

Hoffmann_Lyon1_OT.png John Osborn as Hoffmann, Patrizia Ciofi as Olimpia. Photo © Jean-Pierre Maurin

Offenbach never lets up on his teasing of the world of art — E.T.A. Hoffmann was a poet, Offenbach’s Hoffmann is a poet and singer, Stella is a singer, etc. Pelly and his brilliant scenographer Chantal Thomas have created a production that is continuous creation, and like the roles of Hoffmann and Stella in all her transfigurations — roles that demand great virtuosity and superhuman strength — their production teases the art of stagecraft by teetering it on the edge of what mechanical stagecraft can possibly achieve.

The efforts of mind and muscle expended to operate its scenic mechanism are enormous, and amazingly and precisely timed to messieurs Offenbach and Hoffmann. But in a real dream all this movement would seem effortless, even magical. It did not quite work that way just now in Lyon — there were occasional thumps, pounding now and again, walls chasing singers, platforms that jerked their way across the stage. The production simply does not sit comfortably within the confines of architect Jean Nouvel’s theater.

But you can imagine that when this production does move effortlessly it easily becomes the star of the show. The production was reborn last year in Barcelona and San Francisco before returning now to Lyon. In San Francisco it achieved, more or less, the smoothness of a dream (though there were still technical glitches) and it was in fact the star of the show. However the star was supposed to be Natalie Dessay who finally sang only Antonia (appropriately and ironically the iconic French diva announced her retirement from the opera stage after the second performance).

Of course the name of the opera is Hoffmann thus the star of the show should be Hoffmann. In fact in Lyon American tenor John Osborn achieves the artistic stature to fulfill the demands of Laurent Pelly’s concept, and hold the stage vocally and histrionically through this monumental competition. Mr. Osborn is a very physical performer, a real actor and a beautifully voiced, finished singer. Vocally he is a tenore leggero allowing him to negotiate the role’s high tessitura with ease, maybe even interpolate a few high notes for added effect. At the end however when we expect the pathos of an emotionally and vocally exhausted Hoffmann Mr. Osborn sounded like he could take it from the top all over again.

The Pelly production begins with Stella alone onstage singing Mozart's “Non mi dir” from Don Giovanni. It was Italian diva Patrizia Ciofi, an esteemed artist who quite resembles Natalie Dessay, in what seems to be her role debut as Stella. It was easy to forgive this bit of wobbly Mozart, harder to forgive the wooden tones of Olimpia with truncated high notes, painful to hear the hoarse sounds of her lower voice as Antonia, and irritating to perceive her struggling tiredness as Giulietta. Though dramaturgically Offenbach’s Tales may beg a single opera star to fulfill an impossible array of voices, this example vindicates casting three different singers who can compete vocally with Hoffmann himself, not to mention a conceptually demanding production.

Hoffmann_Lyon3_OT.pngLaurant Alvaro as Dr. Miracle. Photo © Jean-Pierre Maurin

French bass-baritone Laurent Alvaro made big voiced, sinister villains, moving through the roles with force and aplomb though he does not exude a vocal, musical or histrionic refinement that rises to the sophistication of the Pelly production. The same may be said of young Cyrille Dubois as the four servants. Belgian mezzo-soprano Angélique Noldus was over-parted as Nicklausse, neither her voice nor her persona able to cross over the pit into the auditorium. The roles of Luther and Crespel were clumsily executed by British baritone Peter Sidhom.

Offenbach’s score is one of opera’s most engaging masterpieces. But even the pit could not save this performance. This sixth performance (of eight) was conducted by Philippe Forget (Kazushi Ono conducted the first four). This young French maestro conducts minor projects at the Opéra de Lyon and elsewhere. While the Lyon orchestra ably fulfilled its role and the maestro and singers were comfortable with one another, the wit, power and pathos of the score were sorely lacking. Perhaps the young maestro was unnerved by the roughness of the production and its singers.

Michael Milenski

For additional perspective on this production please see Les Contes d’Hoffmann in San Francisco


Casts and production information:

Hoffmann: John Osborn; Lindorf/Coppelius/Docteur Miracle/Dapertutto: Laurent Alvaro; Olympia/Antonia/Giulietta/Stella: Patrizia Ciofi; Muse/Nicklausse: Angélique Noldus; Andrès/Cochenille/Frantz/Pitichinaccio: Cyrille Dubois; Hermann/Peter Schlemil: Christophe Gay; Nathanaël/Spalanzani: Carl Ghazarossian. Chorus and Orchestra of the Opéra de Lyon. Conductor: Philippe Forget. Mise en scène and costumes: Laurent Pelly; Scenery: Chantal Thomas; Lighting: Joël Adam. Opéra Nouvel de Lyon. December 26, 2013.

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):