I love watching operas from the amphitheatre in Orange, provided that I do it from the comfort of the sofa in my living room. I do not think I would enjoy seeing a live performance, sitting on those cold steps with the mistral blowing off the Meditteranean. The mistral buffets the hair and costumes of the female performers most attractively, giving the effect of a pop video except at Orange they do not have to employ a wind machine. You can actually hear the wind in this production: sometimes it muffles the singing but at other times it produces a thrilling effect.
Angelika Kirchschlager as Hoffmann's friend Nicklausse, dominates this opera. She sings magnificently and looks sensational in a green frock-coat with the wind blowing through her hair. In some productions of Hoffmann, Nicklausse can be a peripheral character but not here, Kirchshlager is ever-present on stage and central to the performance.
The only star who can match her charisma is Natalie Dessay as the singing doll, Olympia. Dessay is a high note specialist and has appeared on film in this role at least three times. In this production she is dressed as a Shirley Temple lookalike. Her diminutive figure, dancing with the 12ft high puppets on the Orange stage is a visual delight.
In this production bass-baritone José van Dam plays the four villain roles and tenor Jean-Paul Fouchécourt plays the four comic tenor roles. Béatrice Uria-Monzon and Leontina Vadova attractively sing the roles of Hoffmann's two other love interests Giulietta and Antonia. Marcus Haddock, as Hoffmann himself, gives a fairly colourless performance and does not sufficiently delineate his character throughout the four different stories.
At the end, Nickolausse's transformation into Hoffmann's muse is bungled and the opera finishes with a reprise of the famous barcarolle to give the citizens of Orange another chance to parade on their stilts in their monster costumes. This week I also watched the 1981 production of this opera from Covent Garden with Plácido Domingo. Although the Orange production is a lot of fun the Covent Garden production is more definitive. If only we could get Domingo, Kirchschlager and Dessay in the same production. I'd brave a Roman amphitheatre any night to hear that.
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