Offenbach: Les contes d’Hoffmann

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COMPOSERS: Offenbach
LABELS: Erato
WORKS: Les contes d’Hoffmann
PERFORMER: Roberto Alagna, José van Dam, Natalie Dessay, Leontina Vaduva, Sumi Jo, Catherine Dubosc, Gilles Ragon; Lyon Opera Chorus and Orchestra/Kent Nagano
CATALOGUE NO: 0630-14330-2
The Tales of Hoffmann was Offenbach’s only grand opera after several highly successful operettas. Offenbach sadly died a few months before the first performance at the Opéra-Comique in February 1881. It is believed that he left a piano score with some parts orchestrated and others merely sketched in: however, there is no authentic score of the opera since Offenbach’s manuscripts have not survived. Consequently, each time the opera is performed someone has to research the available sources and decide on the specific musical content. Michael Kaye has made a splendid edition of five acts for this recording which is fully annotated in the booklet.

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Nagano has a thorough grasp of the sweep of the grand opera ensembles and the lightness of touch for the more opéra-comique elements. Dubosc is variable as the Muse and Nicklausse. Dessay’s Olympia is a stunning performance and Vaduva, though occasionally stretched on top notes in the demanding role of Antonia, delivers sumptuous tone and vibrant characterisation. Jo provides a sparkling Giulietta and Van Dam excels himself portraying all four villains. Alagna has learned to harness his thrilling tenor sound, observing piano phrases and blending well in ensembles. His Act IV ‘O Dieu! de quelle ivresse’ is incredibly intense, almost strident, but Act III, with Vaduva, is wonderful. Elise McDougall