I woke at 6.00am on Sunday morning slightly nervous, and very pessimistic about Hoffmann. I caught the 9.48am Cardiff to London train still very pessimistic. I ate lunch at my favourite Italian in London, Carluccio's in Covent Garden, yes…still pessimistic. This pessimism continued as I walked, or rather long jumped, over the street engineering works towards the opera house.
And...he sang! There was a sense of nervousness among the audience beforehand as the lights dimmed. I was waiting for someone to come on stage to announce that he wasn't going to sing, but as Antonio Pappano set the orchestra into motion I knew he would sing...
At first he seemed to be saving his voice, finding out how much he could use it, but as the afternoon wore on he settled and his voice grew in volume - although it wasn't as powerful as I've heard on recordings (or even when he sang at the In Conversation I attended in November), and he was overpowered by Giuletta (Christine Rice) in their duet. But in comparison to where he was several months ago his voice has recovered a great deal, and in other reviews of Hoffmann it was reported that the strength was there, so he may well have been protecting his voice following his recent cold that caused Thursday's cancellation. But the "sound" of his voice, the golden warmth, was there - and in his final arias he did sing with greater conviction (especially his final lines) - and a shiver did run down my back!
His acting was exceptional, allowing the passion of his singing to convey Hoffmann's emotions, making him the standout performer on stage in terms of acting and singing. He was comical, he was sad, he was passionate, he was tragic. He was lost. He was Hoffmann!
Among the other singers Kristine Jepson's effortless soprano made a very enjoyable Nicklausse and Muse, Christine Rice's Giuletta was highly believable and Ekaterina Lekhina's Olympia was mechanically perfect (which should be read as a compliment). Gidon Sacks, although possessing certainly enough vocal heft in the bass passages, did have a slight mishap on the high denouement of "Scintille diamant", but overall he was a convincing bad guy – perhaps he will be better suited to the role a few years from now when he will have built up the required stamina.
Overall, it was a Sunday afternoon worth getting up at 6.00am for, and for this I have the performers, the orchestra (led by Pappano), the ushers of ROH and most importantly Offenbach (and his collaborators) for the musical feast I enjoyed – it certainly kept me warm on my return journey home!
Thanks a lot to Rhodri for his very interessting and very detailed report !