Tales of the Sole Splendid Robot

GermanyGermany Offenbach, Les contes d’Hoffmann: Soloists, Symphony Orchestra & Chorus of the Gran Teatre del Liceu, Stéphane Denève (conductor), Gran Teatre del Liceu, Barcelona, 17 & 19.2.2013 (JMI)

New Production for the Liceu in co-production with San Francisco Opera and Opera National de Lyon.

Direction: Laurent Pelly
Sets: Chantal Thomas
Costumes: Laurent Pelly
Lighting: Joël Adam

Hoffmann: Michael Spyres / Ismael Jordi
Nicklausse: Michèle Losier / Gemma Coma-Alabert
Olympia: Kathleen Kim
Antonia: Natalie Dessay / Eglise Gutiérrez
Giulietta: Tatiana Pavlovskaya / Eglise Gutiérrez
Stella: Susana Cordón / Eglise Gutiérrez
Lindorf,Coppelius,Dr.Miracle, Dapertutto: Laurent Naouri/Oren Gradus
Crespel: Carlos Chausson
Spalanzani: Manel Esteve Madrid
Andres, Cochenille, Frantz, Pitichinaccio: Francisco Vas
Mother of Antonia’s Voice: Salomé Haller
Schlemil: Isaac Galán
Luther: Alex Sanmartí
Nathanael: Airam Hernández
Hermann: Isaac Galán/Gabriel Diap

[picture to follow]

Jacques Offenbach’s Tales of Hoffmann were not premiered until after his death, when they became an immediate and lasting success. The Liceu has opted for Jean Christopher Keck’s edition (updated from Michael Kaye’s 1992 edition) of the opera, the perhaps the most important change lies in the omission of the (apocryphal) septet in the Venetian act.

The new production is by Laurent Pelly, who scored great successes with La fille du régiment and Manon, raising expectations for Les contes. This time, the expectations were disappointed. Pelly casts the story in a dark and grey atmosphere, which is understandable in the Antonia act, but not in the others—particularly in Giulietta’s. The sets consist of a series of reversible panels, which facilitate scene changes, but are otherwise uninteresting: In fact, the fluid ease of the ever-changing sets eventually becomes tiresome. The costumes correspond to the period of the opera’s premiere (1881) and are not especially attractive.

The best act is Olympia’s, with spectacular movements by the doll while she is seated in the crow’s nest atop a mechanical contraption (not unlike those used by La Fura dels Baus in Valencia’s Wagner Tetralogy), or when she skates through her duet with Hoffmann. Originality strikes again when Hoffmann kills Giulietta, but no spoiler here!

available at Amazon
J.Offenbach, Les contes d’Hoffmann,
K.Nagano / Orchestre de l’Opéra de Lyon
N.Dessay, S.Jo, R.Alagna, J.v.Dam et al.

Stéphane Denève conducted a good performance, apart from some excessive volume. The Liceu’s orchestra continues to improve on past seasons and this performance was exemplary of that improvement. The chorus was faultless, and remains the Liceu’s great strength.

Michael Spyres, who sang Hoffmann, is not the most suited interpreter of this rôle: he is a light-lyric tenor and Hoffmann needs a heavier voice. Mr. Spyres voice is attractive, but not large and he increasingly had problems in the upper range over the course of the performance, starting with the Antonia act. For the second cast, Ismael Jordi proved to be an unsound choice for Hoffmann too: he is a fine singer, but his voice is also too light for the rôle. Michèle Losier has an attractive voice for Nicklausse, although it, too, is rather small for a large house like the Liceu. Gemma Coma-Alabert did well except for some unattractive open sounds at the top of her range.

Natalie Dessay was announced initially as the sole interpreter of all four heroines, but she changed her mind and decided to take on only the part of Antonia. The French soprano remains a great singer, but she is still no more than a light soprano—to some, a light lyric—not powerful enough for the character of Antonia. She is, of course, an outstanding actress, which helped greatly.

Eglise Gutierrez was also supposed to play all three heroines, but put Olympia aside, and sang only Antonia and Giulietta. This is not surprising since her voice is not suitable for taking on all rôles (and certainly not Olympia), with a bottom range that is weak to the point of inaudible. She is a better Antonia than a Giulietta, but not an ideal interpreter for that rôle, either, except for her attractive hushed notes. The timbre of her soprano also flatens at the top.

Kathleen Kim was an outstanding Olympia, both as a singer and as an actress and was the big hit of the opera. Tatiana Pavlovskaya offered an attractive dark voice as Giulietta, but passed by with little notice. For some reason, hers is one of those voices that is easily appreciated and just as easily forgotten.

Laurent Naouri has performed the four Devils (Lindorf, Coppelius, Dr. Miracle and Dapertutto) on many occasions and he showed great stage poise. Vocally, he was adequate but with his well-known problem of a whitish top register. Oren Gradus was no more than serviceable in the second cast. Carlos Chausson must be mentioned among the supporting rôles: he was excellent as Crespel as was Francisco Vas in the four cameo rôles.

José MªIrurzun