Les Contes d’Hoffmann, Metropolitan Opera live relay, December 2009

The main character in this fascinating opera by Offenbach is Hoffmann himself, gloriously sung here by Joseph Calleja. He first appears in a tavern where the menacing Count Lindorf is determined to steal his lover, the opera singer Stella. Lindorf has stolen a letter from her to Hoffmann, who entertains the company by describing three earlier loves, Olympia, Antonia, and Giulietta, all of whom portray aspects of Stella. In the ensuing story, Lindorf first reappears as Coppelius, creator of Hoffmann’s first lover, the mechanical doll Olympia, brilliantly performed here by Kathleen Kim. His second transformation is as Dr. Miracle, overseeing the death of Hoffmann’s second lover Antonia, beautifully sung by Anna Netrebko. Miracle once oversaw the death of Antonia’s mother, and though banned from the house he manages to enter and persuade Antonia to sing. This leads to her death after she has just promised to marry Hoffmann. Lindorf’s third transformation is as Dappertutto, confidante to Hoffmann’s third lover, the courtesan Giulietta, who was sung by Ekaterina Gubanova. Dapertutto attempts to destroy Hoffmann by getting Giulietta to steal his image from a mirror, after which she disappears in a gondola. Hoffmann then finds himself back in the tavern where he loses Stella to Lindorf, leaving him to his muse and his drink.

Lindorf and the three thaumaturges are one and the same, and were all excellently sung by Alan Held. He, Joseph Calleja, and his muse, sung by Kate Lindsey, were the driving forces behind this fine performance, well aided by James Levine in the orchestra pit. Alan Held’s presence was suitably dark, and Kate Lindsey was outstanding as both a beautiful muse and Hoffmann’s friend Nicklausse, who is mysteriously present throughout. They are powerful forces of despair and recovery for Hoffmann, and Joseph Calleja performed that difficult role with glorious singing and a sympathetic stage presence.

This production by Bartlett Sher is powerful in its representation of the imagery behind Hoffmann’s passions, and is well aided by Michael Yeargan’s sets, Catherine Zuber’s costumes, and choreography by Dou Dou Huang. I particularly liked the fact that Hoffmann’s lovers were in the correct dramatic order, though so many other productions switch the order of Antonia and Giulietta. They do that because the producer finds the music for Antonia stronger than that for Giulietta, but the drama of the mirror in Giulietta’s scene is crucial because it allows the magus, alias Lindorf, to show Hoffmann that his image of himself is but an image that can be wiped out, leaving the poet to his muse and his companions.

My only complaint with this production is that it lacks the ending of the Giulietta scene when she drinks poison prepared for Hoffmann, and Departutto cries out, Ah, Giulietta, maladroite! With this ending to the act, Hoffmann has destroyed all three representations of Stella and is ready to live again for his muse.

5 Responses to “Les Contes d’Hoffmann, Metropolitan Opera live relay, December 2009”

  1. Ron Andersen says:

    I saw the Encore showing last night here in Anchorage. I thought Calleja had a beautiful voice but lacked the emotion I expected in the beginning. In the end he was much better.

    I was totally taken by Kate Lindsey, both as the Muse and as Nicklausse and especially Nicklausse. What an actress! I was taken by her to the point of distraction as I watched her body language as she moved silently in the background and as she related to Hoffman. Her facial expressions, the way she moved, sat, etc, kept my eyes glued to her. I too, fell “in love” with her. Now I am thinking I will go see her as the lead in the world premier of “Amelia” with the Seattle Opera in May.

  2. Martin Schuler says:

    I can only agree to Ron Andersen. I saw “Les Contes d’Hoffmann” on Dec. 19th in Germany and as a man you have to fall in love with this “Nicklause”. All her movings, her facial expressions, her acting and all the other things Ron mentioned. She really lived in that role. I would even say: None of the other actress put so much life in his or her role as Kate Lindsey did. My respect to her as I know how hard it is to slip in a completely new character and to create emotions in the heart of the audience.

    And, isn’t it the dream of all of us men: to have such a beautiful, heart-touching Muse a life long at our side?

  3. Thank you for your comments on my favorite opera. I saw the Hoffmann live at the Met on Dec. 16th and in a cinema in Ingolstadt on Dec. 19th.
    For exactly three years I have been suffering from a serious and seemingly incurable attack of Hoffmania, and I go and see most productions of this opera in the Western World. I have managed 36 by now.
    My review on the Met production (in German with an English summary) can be found here:
    There is also a remarkably good review by a renowned Texan kidney specialist, Neil Kurtzman, who runs the homepage http://www.medicine-opera.com. Go to

    I agree with most of what was written in the above articles, except that I felt that some of Bartlett Sher´s concepts lack the psychological depth which are given to this opera by many European directors. My alltime favorites were the productions by Dmitri Bertman (Moscow and Tartu/Estonia 2009) and Johannes Erath (Bern/Switzerland 2008).
    I had chats with Anna Netrebko, Joseph Calleja and Kate Lindsey after the performance, and all of them were friendly and patient with their fans waiting in the cold.
    The finale of the Giulietta act and of the opera were according to Oeser. Why the Met chose this version is explained in my contribution to the following thread in the Baltimore Sun.
    At the end of this thread Charlie Richards (California) has written an authoritative article on the different versions of this opera (Guiraud-Choudens, Oeser and Kaye-Keck).

    With kind regards and thanks to Mark Ronan for running this page.
    Gerhart, Munich

  4. asperia says:

    i liked Lindsey very much.

  5. She was very good indeed, both as an actress and a singer. I had a short talk with Kate at the stage door after the performance on Dec 16th 2009, and she was friendly and open for a relaxed discussion.
    see http://www.myway.de/hoffmann/0910-met.html for a private photograph

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