Montag, 21. Dezember 2009

Les contes d'Hoffmann review - 19th December 2009

"My wife Paula and I attended the Les Contes d'Hoffmann performance at the MET on
19-December which was also simulcast around the world as a live broadcast. As
snow was encroaching on New York City, the crowds came out to see the Tales of
Hoffmann. I totally agree with Irina, that there is truly nothing like a live
performance, although this spectacle deserves a second review with the encore HD
performance in January. Although there were some vacant seats due the inclement
weather it was clear that Netrebko has her devoted following. The gift shop was
playing a DVD of her Berlin Concert with Villazon and Domingo and copies were
literally flying off the shelves. One woman flew in from Dallas just for this
performance. The MET intentionally sanitized this production leaving out the
partial nudity (G strings and pasties) reviewed by Anthony Tommasini of the New
York Times.

There was a rousing ovation for James Levine who recently returned from back
surgery for a ruptured disc. He has the uncanny ability to allow the orchestra
to support, but not overpower the singers. Bartlet Sher the director pretty
much took a static opera with no dimension of time or change of venue. and made
a spectacle of the opera. While there were some incongruities, it pretty much
came off rather well and was very well received. Olympia, the mechanical doll
played by Kathleen Kim was adorable, cute and sang with coloratura ease. She
danced and walked like a mechanized doll as the voice lifted just like a young
adolescent nymph. This was not the role for Netrebko. Although other
productions have had wind up keys built into the costume, this rendition was
just adorable. Ekaterina Gubanova as Giuletta was stiff and uninspiring. The
part of Nicklausse sung by Kate Lindsay was just average, as her voice and
expression appear not ready for prime time. Alan Held had a commanding presence
as Dr. Miracle and sang with convincing authority. The clear winners of the
afternoon were Joseph Calleja as Hoffmann and Anna Netrebko as Antonia. Calleja
displayed confidence, presence and endurance. His voice has an unusual
tenderness and affection that is reminiscent of Jussi Bjorling. Calleja had
strength, the ability to project and literally sang the entire opera without
much rest. His tenderness in recounting his lost loves came across with passion
and conviction. This is an enormous role early in his career and it was clear
that he was up to the task. Although Anna Netrebko's role as Antonia in the 2nd
act was limited, she ruled the stage with passion, illumination and exquisite
acting ability. One only has to think of her Salzburg Traviata for an analogy.
Her deep Slavic tone and elegant poise was well suited to this role. She truly
commanded the stage and all around her. Her duets with Hoffman were poignant,
elegant and dramatic. She had the ability the sing along with his commanding
presence. She was dressed in a beautiful nightgown that highlighted her style,
grace and sumptuous figure. It is evident that she has lost much weight after
her pregnancy, but her voice and timbre have become richer, more colored and
exquisite. There were time when you could pick out her voice on top of the
chorus. She has not lost her high register at all and there were some hints of
exquisite trills in her singing. In short, this role was made for her, a
sumptuous, melancholy lover with a great sense of pathos and drama.
At intermission, I met a gentlemen who was at her MET debut in War and Peace.
He said that he heard a lone voice above the chorus that transcended all. He
said that he knew then that she was very special as only time would demonstrate.
He loved her role here, but was not as enthusiastic about her coloratura
capabilities in Lucia last year.

The production did have some weaknesses that seemed to detract from the overall
message. In the opening of the third act which simulated an orgy or bordello,
the well choreographed dancers with exquisitely flexible bodies were on top of
men reminiscent of strippers at a bar. Their modern day costumes seemed out of
place from the elegant victorian gowns and long coat worn by Hoffmann. My wife
found some of this mildly offensive and inappropriate. If this was the
sanitized version, I am sure that other performances had similar responses.
Parts of the opera appeared to make fun of the Jews and were mildly anti-Semitic
in nature. While not offensive, it is clear that Bartlet Sher chose to
highlight these issues in his interpretation. I found it to be mildly amusing
and perhaps this reflects some of Offenbach's beliefs.

Some general thoughts are in order. Having attended opera and concerts
throughout Europe, I am astounded by the lack of decorum of many participants in
the audience. On a Saturday afternoon where tickets are rather expensive, I am
shocked by people dressed in dungarees and sweatshirts. My opinion is that the
audience should be respectful to others in the audience as well as the
performers. People sitting next to me in the opera talked throughout the opera
and you could hear the incessant vibration of cell phone and occasional audible
ones that were extremely bothersome. As Hoffmann was singing his heart out in
the 3rd act, a cell phone went off at the most inopportune time. I realize that
times are much more casual than in the past, but a modicum of decorum,
appropriate dress and behavior is a rather low bar for such an exquisite art

In closing our trip to NYC was well worth the effort. Netrebko was enchanting,
ravishing and skilled in her abilities. Our trip home was delayed by snow and
ice, but fortunately we had a young female bus driver that was safety conscious,
courteous and skilled in her driving abilities. She had to stop 4-5 times to
clear ice from the wipers. Fortunately she beat the storm as she traveled North
to Boston.

Looking forward to Boheme later this spring as well as Carmen with Garanca.


Many thanks to you, Howard, for your great and detailled review ! Feels like you have been there yourself !

(I'm sorry I don't know why it appears like this...and I don't know how to change it...)

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