Offenbach: Les Contes d’Hoffman

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COMPOSERS: Offenbach
LABELS: Erato
ALBUM TITLE: Offenbach: Les Contes d’Hoffmann
WORKS: Le Contes d’Hoffmann
PERFORMER: Michael Spyres, Kathleen Kim, Natalie Dessay, Tatiana Pavlovskaya, Laurent Naouri, Michele Losier, Francisco Vas, Salome Haller, Susana Cordón; Chorus & Symphony Orchestra of the Gran Teatre del Liceu/Stéphane Deneve; dir. Laurent Pelly
CATALOGUE NO: 46369140

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Once we mourned the absence of a definitive version of Hoffmann because of the composer’s untimely death. Now we relish the opportunities that the uncompleted score offers to a producer. Laurent Pelly and Stéphane Denève have opted for Michael Kaye and Jean-Christophe Keck’s version for their Liceu production in Barcelona which seems as close to Offenbach’s intentions for the work as we are likely ever to get.

Pelly relishes its darkly dramatic possibilities. So Antonia’s drama is played out on a vertiginous staircase with Dr Miracle tempting her to sing herself to death from the landings, while there’s not a gondola in sight in Giulietta’s Venice where a grand reception room seems to shrink to a broom cupboard. And if we start with physics in Spalanzani’s laboratory we end with metaphysics in a hell that is other people.

The production belongs to Laurent Naouri who finds something truly distinctive in each of his portraits of the four villains – Lindorf, Coppélius, Dr Miracle and Dapertutto – while never shedding his full-length leather overcoat or ruffling his sleeked down patent leather hair. If Kathleen Kim is a less than dazzling crinolined Olympia, Natalie Dessay is remarkable as Antonia, haunted from the moment that she sings her song for the first time in her box room of a bedroom. And Tatiana Pavlovskaya’s Giulietta is as venal as she is vocally assured. Have the scenes with Dapertutto ever seemed so sinister? If Michael Spyres’s Hoffmann isn’t quite the centre of his own tales, nevertheless he sounds a properly French tenor. Stéphane Denève in the pit keeps the tension rising and the Liceu Orchestra reward him with a properly idiomatic performance.

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Christopher Cook