Album title:
Les contes d’Hoffmann
Jacques Offenbach
Les contes d’Hoffmann
Vittorio Grigolo, Kate Lindsey, Sofia Fomina, Christine Rice, Sonya Yoncheva, Thomas Hampson; Royal Opera House Chorus & Orchestra / Evelino Pidò; dir. John Schlesinger (London, 2016)
Catalogue Number:
Sony DVD: 88985376619; Blu-ray: 88985376629
Picture & Sound:
BBC Music Magazine

This is a spectacular Tales of Hoffmann to look at, but not perhaps as serious as it should be. So there’s nothing too taxing about art rescuing life from the gutter. Or how Offenbach and his librettists skewer 19th-century images of women as domestic doll, courtesan and doomed angel of the hearth.   

Still, there’s much to enjoy. John Schlesinger’s production for the Royal Opera House appeared sumptuous when it opened in 1980, and it’s still a handsome show. William Dudley’s vast sets offer landings and staircases, places to hide and corners from which to overhear, and in the Venetian act a canal with gondolas, while the attention to detail in the late 19th-century costumes is everything that you would expect from Maria Björnson. Schlesinger directs with the wide lens vision of an international filmmaker, though this revival by Daniel Dooner knows how to use close up too.

It’s good to hear as much if not more of Offenbach’s reconstructed score than is often the case. But you still need six great singing actors to make Hoffmann serenade your heart. Sofia Fomina trills like a canary as the mechanical doll, Christine Rice is darkly beguiling as Giulietta and Sonya Yoncheva’s Antonia would melt a heart of stone. Kate Lindsey’s Nicklausse is irresistible too, her tone dark chocolate and cream.

It’s the men who are the problem. Tenor Vittorio Grigolo is a dry-toned Hoffmann, and throws himself about the stage as if possessed instead of finding the character in the voice. Baritone Thomas Hampson takes three acts to discover the devil in Dr Miracle. Before that in Paris and Venice he seems to have lost the way to hell. In the pit conductor Evelino Pidò lacks a certain Gallic touch in music that should beguile and surprise. That it does so often in this recording is a tribute to Offenbach. 

Christopher Cook

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