Hoffmann’s Sorry Tales From Frankfurt

GermanyGermany J. Offenbach, Les Contes d’Hoffmann: Soloists, Frankfurter Museumsorchester, Frankfurt Opera Chorus, Christian Arming (conductor), Frankfurt Opera, 10.11.2011 (JMI)

Production: Oper Frankfurt
Direction: Dale Duesing
Sets: Boris Kudlicka
Costumes: Arno Bremers
Lighting: Olaf Winter

Hoffmann: Alfred Kim
Lindorf, Coppelius, Dr. Miracle, Dapertutto: Simon Neal
Nicklausse: Paula Murrihy
Olympia: Brenda Rae
Antonia: Elza Van Den Heever
Giulieta: Tanja Ariane Baumgartner
Antonia Mother’s Voice: Katherina Magiera
Nathanael, Spalanzani,Franz,Pitichinaccio: Julian Pregardien
Crespel, Luther: Alfred Reiter
Hermann, Schlemihl: Sungkon Kim
Cochenille, Andres: Michael McCown

Frankfurt is one of the more attractive German cities to the opera lover. It’s not stellar casts that are the main attraction, but the repertoire, each year adding some new and rather rare titles, and good quality shows just about guaranteed. I have been drawn, on this occasion, for four days—mainly by a new production of Siegfried and the rarely performed L’Etoile by Chabrier. Two humdinger operas—Les Contes d’Hoffmann and La Traviata—bracket my stay. The Offenbach I already saw in its premiere run last spring – the review can be read on this site.

It was Hartmut Keil who conducted last April and I was not convinced. Same story this time with Christian Arming, whose reading was marred by similar problems as Mr. Keil’s: routine, noise, and lack of nuances… in short, a boring performance. Nor were stage and pit well coordinated.

Alfred Kim, a member of the Frankfurt opera ensemble, sang Hoffmann again, and apart from very nice top notes I found him a rather monotonous singer so far. New to the cast was the English baritone Simon Neal as ‘Villains One through Four’ (Lindorf, Coppelius, Dr. Miracle and Dapertutto). He turned out quite acceptable, but not, alas, exciting.

Also new was American soprano Brenda Rae as Olympia. Brenda Rae is one of the best sopranos in Frankfurt, but I don’t believe that Olympia is a role for her—at least not yet. With its demand for stratospheric notes the character asks for something lighter than Mrs. Rae who, being a remarkable singer, I would rather hear as Antonia.

That role, meanwhile, was taken by South African soprano Elza van den Heever. With her impressive instrument I dare to say she is well suited for Verdi; less so Offenbach. Her middle range is powerful, good at the bottom and has an easy top, although there are some awkward sounds at the transition.

Tanja Ariane Baumgartner was a fine Giulietta with a wide, but unexceptional voice. She, too, might be better suited to different repertoire. I recall her as excellent in Richard Strauss’s Daphne, for example.  Irish mezzo Paula Murrihy offered a very decent interpretation of Nicklausse—what a shame that she sings so little in this version.

In the secondary characters Katherina Magiera repeated her earlier performance as Antonia’s mother while Julian Prégardien took the four cameos (Nathanael, Spalanzani, Franz, and Pitichinaccio) pleasing little or not at all in the process. Even Franz’s aria went unnoticed.

Jose Mª Irurzun