Les Contes d’Hoffmann, Metropolitan Opera live relay, December 2009Posted on 20 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.