Offenbach , Les contes d’Hoffmann: Soloists, Frankfurter Museumsorchester, Frankfurt Opera Chorus. Conductor: Hartmut Keil. Oper Frankfurt 15. 4.2011 (JMI)
Direction: Dale Duesing
Sets: Boris Kudlicka
Costumes: Arno Bremers
Lighting: Olaf Winter
Hoffmann: Alfred Kim
Lindorf, Coppelius, Doctor Miracle, Dapertutto: Aris Argiris
Olympia: Julia Novikova
Antonia: Juanita Lascarro
Giulietta: Irini Karaianni
Nicklausse: Jenny Carlstedt
Nathanael, Spalanzani,Franz, Pitichinaccio: Peter Marsh
Mère d’Antonia: Katharina Magiera
Crespel/Luther: Magnus Baldvinsson
Hermann/Schlemihl: Florian Plock
Cochenille/Andres: Michael McCown
Of all the alternative versions of Offenbach’s unfinished Tales of Hoffman, Frankfurt chose the Fritz Oeser version, which is rather surprising, considering the very musical more recent contributions. I fear the Frankfurt audience did not gain from that decision, since the role of Nicklausse loses much importance in the Oeser version and we also lose the famous “septet” in the Venice act.
Dale Duesing’s production of Les Contes d’Hoffmann was premiered this past October and places the action in a contemporary setting. A bar, neon lights on the walls. For the Olympia-act a small module is added in which Spalanzani works with his doll. For the Antonia-act we have a grand piano brought on stage. In Giulietta’s act, the most elaborate act in this production – there are mobile elements forming a bridge together with a grand staircase and some disco balls and a pair of pole dancers for flavor. The costumes are well done, the lighting excellent. The stage direction is focused on the figure of Hoffmann and alcohol as the primary protagonist. No amount of alcohol at intermission could have undone my disappointed with the production. Rarely have I seen an Olympia-act so short of fun. Antonia’s act, too, lacked emotion, and not even Franz’s aria got a smile from the audience. The Giulietta-act was more attractive, but fell short of sensuality.
This production had its premiere under the musical direction of Roland Boer. Unfortunately, it was Hartmut Keil who took his place at the podium on this occasion. His reading was flat, short of nuances, and too noisy. He improved somewhat in the epilogue, but that was too late to raise the interest. The orchestra was not at its best, though the chorus performed faultlessly.
Korean Alfred Kim as Hoffmann, had a fine voice for the part; its middle a tendency to stay backwards, the top shining brightly. He is aware of the latter asset, showing it off with a few interpolated high notes here and there.
Greek baritone Aris Argiris was net well suited to the Four Devils (Lindorf, Coppelius, Dr. Miracle and Dapertuto). These characters require a bass-baritone, seeing how only piece, the diamond aria in Giulietta’s act, is truly for baritone. Argiris is a pure baritone and not even a dramatic one whose vocal weight was insufficient for most of his duty that night.
Olympia was sung by young Russian soprano Julia Novikova, best known for having accompanied Placido Domingo in the televised Rigoletto from Mantua. She is a light soprano with an attractive voice, able to climb to the highest notes, even though they are not particularly beautiful.
Colombian Juanita Lascarro was a very appropriate Antonia; the best casting choice of the evening. Even if her voice is just a little too light, her aria and her duet with Hoffmann were something special.
Greek mezzo soprano Irini Karaianni (Giulietta) not truly convincing on stage and given Jenny Carlstedt’s none-too-appealing, occasionally inaudible Nicklausse, I suppose it could be said that I was churlish in decrying the cuts the Oener version makes to that part. Of the rest of the cast, only Magnus Baldvinsson (sonorous, well suited to Crespel and Luther) and Florian Plock (Hermann and Schlemihl) distinguished themselves at all.