The 2021 recording of Offenbach’s Les contes d’Hoffmann from the Staatsoper Hamburg is fairly straightforward but it’s visually interesting and musically excellent. I don’t think Daniele Finzi Pascas’ production has a “concept” as such. It’s still about three imaginary women who make up Hoffmann’s dream woman and he still ultimately rejects even her in favour of Art. Each of the five acts is given as different and distinctive look and feel though the use of mirrors and aerial doubles is a recurrent theme. It’s worth noting up front that Olga Peretyatko sings all four ladies.
Act 1 is very dark and heavy use is made of mirrors. The Muse is doubled by an aerialist and an acrobatic Kleinzach descends from the fly loft to the bar. Lindorf has enormously long finger nails; a motif that will recur in all his incarnations. The (not at all) invisible spirits are represented here by some sort of medical team. Otherwise it’s a period appropriate café/bar setting. The chorus has a light and sprightly sound that seems appropriate to Offenbach.
Act 2 (Olympia) has more medics and nursing sisters, this time carrying giant eyes on poles. The chorus is again very strong. The staging features a jerky doll Olympia in quite a conventional way Peretyatko certainly has the notes and the coloratura chops to sing Olympia but one senses this is not the best fit for her. Her tone is a bit full and lush for this act. Overall, it’s well done but perhaps the weakest act.
Act 3 (Antonia) is intriguing. The theme is butterflies and they are everywhere. Aerialists double the Muse and represent Antonia’s mother. Luca Pisaroni, singing the villains, is particularly menacing here. The music also suits Peretyatko better.
Act 4 (Giulietta) is Peretyatko’s strongest act. Her lush tones and seductive acting are ideal for the very Venetian courtesan portrayed here. Visually this act is very strange. It’s extremely dark and mirrors abound. So do symbols of Venice. The characters, except for Hoffmann and Nicklausse wear rather extreme 18th century outfits and the chorus is costumed as some kind of weird, glittery, bird. The stealing of Hoffmann’s reflection is very well staged but (of course) he’s still reflecting in the mirror at the back of the stage with everyone else. Also, some spoken dialogue comes into play. Up to Act 3 all the linking material has been sung recit. I can’t remember if this is normal or some kind of nod to the fact that Hoffmann didn’t complete the last two acts.
Act 5 (Stella) uses an interesting device. The chorus are costumed as waiters on one side and patrons on the other so they can be either depending which way they are facing. There’s more aerial Muse and Kleinzach. Peretyatko is as comfortable as Stella as Giulietta. There’s some very good drunk acting from our Hoffmann Benjamin Bernheim. And there’s more spoken dialogue.
There are some really strong performances. Olga Peretyatko really does manage all four roles very well though I think any soprano must sound better in some of the acts than others. Benjamin Bernheim sings quite heroically as Hoffmann. This is proper tenoring indeed. Luca Pisaroni varies up the villains nicely. The singing is consistently good and he varies the characterisation nicely. Angela Brower is a very effective Muse/Nicklausse with just the right amount of “cheeky chappie”. A shout out to Martin Summer who s particularly good as Luther and Crespel but really all the supporting singers are very good and the chorus is excellent. Kent Nagano conducts with the Philharmonisches Staatsorchester Hamburg in the pit. I think it’s a reading on the lighter end of things which works well.
Henning Kasten directed the video. Given the darkness of some of the scenes and the heavy use of mirrors (once thought to preclude a video. – cf. The Met’s Die Frau ohne Schatten not getting an HD) he does a really good job. All the shot choices are judicious and the visual complexity, especially in Act 4 is well presented. I watched this on Blu-ray and it looked fine but I really wonder how the darker parts would play on straight DVD. The sound is generally very clear (both DTS-HD and stereo) but there seemed to be some issues with level especially in Act 4 where there a couple of spots where the volume drops for no obvious musical reason. No extras on the disk but the booklet has a couple of essays as well as a track listing and synopsis. Subtitle options are French, English, German, Japanese and Korean.
All in all, a very commendable production. The staging has some interesting visual touches and the singing is very fine.
Catalogue number: EA Blu-ray 2065894