Hunchback Hoffmann

Giancarlo del Monaco’s production of Offenbach’s Les Contes d’Hoffmann recorded in Bilbao in 2006 isn’t nearly as weird as the interviews on the first disk might lead one to expect.  It has its moments but in many ways is more “by the book” than the Laurent Pelly production I looked at last week.  The interviews talk of a “Sartrian” Hoffmann and a Freudian approach to Antonia.  Ok so Hoffmann is portrayed as a hunchback and he’s fairly damaged but he’s basically your standard drunk poet fixated on a woman or women he can’t have.  I can’t actually see this dude nailing his hand to a nightclub table with a knife or drowning his cat to prove a point.

1.kleinzachThe Prologue really does prefigure what’s to come.  The chorus is lively and loud, as is the orchestra under Alain Guingal.  Katharine Goeldner’s Nicklausse is perhaps best described as fruity and Aquiles Machado is quite a dramatic Hoffmann, even if his French diction leaves a bit to be desired.  To round things out Konstantin Gorny’s Lindorff is more bass than baritone and sounds diabolically sepulchral.  This goes on throughout.  It’s big and bold and, in a way, not very French (if you equate Frenchness with a kind of effete refinement).  The sound quality on the recording complements this very well being quite lush (DTS and stereo both).  As one might expect in such a reading Kleinzach gets the full on treatment.  I’m not sure it’s quite what Offenbach had in mind but I liked it.

2.olympiaThe Olympia scene is pretty straightforward.  She’s a radio controlled doll and stuff happens.  Milagros Poblador has, again, quite a full sound for Olympia.  She does the mechanical and wonky bits very well but some might prefer a more “porcelain” tone colour.  The only “weird” touch is Coppélius appearing at the end of the scene on a giant doll’s leg.

3.legThis production uses the Giullietta act as Act 2.  This is a bit weird.  There are strange winged and masked creatures, one of them Schlémil, under Giulietta’s extremely extensive skirts.  Other characters are masked too and at the crucial moment of obtaining Hoffmann’s shadow, the lady sticks a mask on him too.  There’s also a giant gondola with a Lion of Venice and an ultra stylized duel.  The chorus seems to be doing odd things too but at this point, Angel Luis Ramirez’ video direction goes all weird and artsy and it’s hard to tell.  Valentina Kutzarova is a convincing Giullietta both vocally and dramatically and looks the part.

4.giulliettaSo, the Antonia act really becomes the crux of the drama.  It also features the only singer on show that I had ever seen before; María Bayo.  She’s, again, a big voice for Antonia and she’s made up and played as quite a mature woman.  The act starts off straightforwardly but things do start to get odder as Hoffmann deteriorates even more emotionally.  Giulietta is carried in by her freaky attendants and Olympia makes an appearance too during the mother’s aria. The emotional mood kind of goes into overdrive and so does the video direction so it’s not easy to see what the director is driving at.  At the end Nicklausse appears on a giant violin and set and all fall to pieces.

5.antoniaThe epilogue seems kind of tame after all this but the reprise/completion of Kleinzach is quite grim and the fantasy nature of Hoffmann’s “relationship” with Stella couldn’t be clearer.

6.tuttiPicture quality is pretty decent for an often dark production and the bonus interviews are worth watching.  The booklet has a complete track listing and an OK essay.  Subtitles are English, French, German, Spanish and Italian (but not Basque).

7.stellaI rather doubt that there will ever be a “definitive” recording of Les Contes d’Hoffmann.  There are just two many issues in play.  I rather liked this one though I suspect purists, especially those of a Gallic persuasion, won’t.

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