The current Metropolitan Opera production of Les Contes d’Hoffmann is a well-known opera by composer Jacques Offenbach (1819-1880). It is performed with the expertise of an outstanding cast, and the MET orchestra, led by conductor Johannes Debus.
This production is richly enhanced by the excellent vocal and dramatic artistry of the principal singers. These virtuosic singers are Vittorio Grigolo, Erin Morley, Anita Hartig, Oksana Volkova, Laurent Naouri, Tara Erraught and Christophe Mortagne.
Important Details of the Production
This Bartlett Sher production includes revival stage direction from Gina Lapinski. It successfully displays the sometimes opulent, sometimes basic lifestyles common in early 19th century European cultures.
The lavish drama of this opera is further enhanced by set designs from Michael Yeargan and costumes by Catherine Zuber. Rich lighting design is by James F. Ingalls. Ornate choreography by Dou Dou Huang defines and accentuates the grand atmosphere.
This last opera from Offenbach combines a vibrant and varied score and libretto with engaging stage sets. In total, three diverse story lines embody this luxurious production. Together, they display exotic elegance, blatant grotesqueness, depths of heartache and light-hearted humor.
During this performance, genuine beauty is challenged by ill-intended sentiments, jealousies and calculated rivalries. As the opera progresses, these conflicting elements merge and balance somewhat.
Tales of Amorous Intrigue Unveiled
This opera by composer Jacques Offenbach and librettist Jules Barbier links very different story lines together. Skillfully, this feat is accomplished by the presence in each tale of the poet Hoffmann. He is joined by his trusted companion, Nicklausse.
This unusual sequence of tales begins with Act I (a prologue) set in Luther’s Tavern in an anonymous city. Hoffmann’s poetic muse is embodied by his friend, the student Nicklausse, and as an ardent storyteller, Hoffmann drinks in excess.
Counselor Lindorf competes with Hoffmann in amorous pursuits. He accuses Hoffmann of lacking understanding of the heart’s value in love. As a result, Hoffmann begins to recount the stories of three females—the greatest subjects of his love.
As the tales unfold, we discover that each celebrated female character meets destruction. This downfall ensues from the devious plots of a scoundrel, and he strongly resembles Lindorf.
The First Tale of Intrigue
In his first story, Hoffmann reveals his amorous fascination for Olympia, a mechanical doll. Unfortunately, she eventually meets her demise, and the culprit is Coppélius, an inventor.
The Second Captivating Scenario
The story line of the next tale revolves around the courtesan, Giulietta. She accepts jewels from Dapertutto, a magician and ignores Hoffmann’s infatuation for her.
The Third Fascinating Saga
In the third dramatic saga, sweet-natured Antonia sings to her last breath, and the demonic Doctor Miracle encourages her.
As he concludes his storytelling, the inebriated Hoffmann discovers that Lindorf disappeared with the diva Stella. Unfortunately, she is the current subject of Hoffmann’s love.
At this point, the Muse intervenes, trying to convince Hoffmann to make good use of his broken heart. The Muse urges the composer-poet to convert his immediate heartbreak into compelling and convincing dramatic art.
Principal Singers in This Production
Vittorio Grigolo. – As Hoffmann, tenor Vittorio Grigolo skillfully combines authentic dramatic depth and ardor with vocal agility. In the process, he creates tones ranging from crisp-edged brilliance to darker, dagger-sharpness. He vocalizes the very depths of disparity. These volumetric low tones add expansive
dimensions to the brighter ring of the distant, crystalline clarity in his high notes.
He is completely true-to-life and convincing in his portrayal of the romantic poet. Clearly, he artfully depicts the poet’s triumphs and downfalls, both vocally and dramatically.
Fascinating Characters to Enliven Three Tales
Erin Morley. – In her role as Olympia, soprano Erin Morley entreats with a charismatic, endearing performance. Consequently, her portrayal of the mechanical doll’s machinations and mishaps at the hands of her would-be controllers is vividly comedic.
In fact, her performance is also quite touching, and her high notes vault with a charming, belle-tone precision. In effect, this vocal quality both haunts and enhances her regimented, but unpredictable, jerky movements.
Anita Hartig. – As both Antonia, an ill and weakening young singer, and the acclaimed prima donna, Stella, the soprano Anita Hartig triumphs. To achieve this, she offers artistically strong and vocally colorful portrayals of the talented youth and accomplished diva.
Oksana Volkova. – As Giulietta, a courtesan, mezzo-soprano Oksana Volkova is quite self-willed in her flirtations and seductive schemes.
While singing a barcarolle with Nicklausse, she displays full, rounded vocal hues and tonalities. These qualities linger and haunt with plaintive, contained emotion that is unlimited in poignancy and beauty.
Laurent Naouri. – In his multiple roles of Lindorf, Coppélius, Dr. Miracle and Dapertutto, bass-baritone Laurent Naouri exhibits artistic and vocal versatility. With fluid skill, he portrays character traits ranging from dark deviance to romantic rivalry.
Tara Erraught. – Playing the role of Nicklausse, the Muse of Poetry, in this production, mezzo-soprano Tara Erraught lends a steadying quality. Throughout the performance, she displays creative yet practical sensibility.
She guides Hoffmann with calming, smooth and often subtle vocal and dramatic nuances. Deftly, she steers him along his intriguing and frequently rough-edged journey. Loyally, she stays with him throughout this mesmerizing series of tales.
Christophe Mortagne. – Tenor Christophe Mortagne offers strong, convincing vocal and dramatic performances. He plays the roles of the four servants, Andrès, Cochenille, Frantz and the dwarf, Pitichinaccio.
More Facts of Interest About the Opera
The Jacques Offenbach score for Les Contes d’Hoffmann still prevails as one of the most enthralling operatic masterpieces written.
As a perpetual teaser of the fine art world, Offenbach expands the character of poet and composer, E.T.A. Hoffmann (1776-1822). Subsequently, he depicts Hoffmann as both a poet and singer who is infatuated with the celebrated opera singer, Stella.
As a German composer-author, the “real life” E.T.A. Hoffman created tales that served as inspiration for many later works. These works include Tchaikovsky’s well-known ballet, The Nutcracker.
The librettist of Les Contes d’Hoffmann, Jules Barbier (1825-1901), was collaborator with Michel Carré on an earlier theatrical drama. This play, Les contes fantastiques d’Hoffmann, is the dramatic piece on which the opera was based. In addition, Barbier is renowned as the librettist of the Gounod operas, Roméo et Juliette and Faust.
This opera also challenges the very basics of stagecraft in both practical and fun-loving modes. It pushes each performance to the heights (or depths) of dramatic artistry. In reality, this production shows us what brilliant stage mechanics and artistic excellence can achieve together. These two primary elements align in ways that are sometimes cohesive and sometimes precarious.
Lighter Moments Blend with Sparks of Pure Artistic Genius
Along with the lighter, teasing aspects of this production, Offenbach also attains more serious accomplishments.
The combined tales of this lavish opera involve a somewhat overwhelming number of characters. Yet the composer simplifies the telling of three separate stories.
To achieves this, he designates one singer to assume the roles of the players that directly challenge Hoffmann. As the story lines reveal, these challengers are Lindorf, Coppélius, Dr. Miracle and Dapertutto (bass-baritone, Laurent Naouri).
In this production, the parts of the servants, Andrès, Cochenille, Frantz and Pitichinaccio, are all portrayed by a single singer. This versatile vocalist is the tenor, Christophe Mortagne.
Mark Schowalter assumes both roles of a student, Nathanael, and the physicist, Spalanzani. Robert Pomakov plays the parts of the tavern proprietor, Luther, and Antonia’s father, Crespel. David Crawford sings the roles of Hermann, a student, and Schlemil, and Olesya Petrova assumes the role of Antonia’s mother.
Les Contes d’Hoffmann as a Major Highlight of the Opera Season
This is an intriguing, fascinating and dynamic production of Offenbach’s Les Contes d’Hoffmann. It is a colorful, vibrant MET production. This opera is a major 2017-18 Season highlight.
This truly is a “must see” performance. The entire opera production and its exceptional principal singers mesmerize, charm and delight us all.