Les Contes d'Hoffmann(or Tales of Hoffmann) is a favourite of mine when it comes to opera. The music is amazing, with the Barcarolle, the Doll Song and Scintille Diamant standing out, the characters are memorable when performed well and I love the simple but interesting story structure, with the prologue and an act each focusing on each of Hoffmann's three loves.
The 1981 and 2003 productions are my favourites of this opera, but this one from 1995 is still extremely good. The costumes and sets are great to look at, and the video directing, sound and picture quality have little problem either. Then there is superb orchestra playing and passionate conducting from Riccardo Chailly, which do not undermine the drama one bit.
The cast are truly excellent. Neil Shicoff is very believable as a singer and is very passionate about what he sings. His acting is decent too, while he could have been more sympathetic at times, his reaction to when Olympia is smashed doesn't feel fake in any way, he does play a good drunk and he shows a good partnership with his co-stars.
Susanne Mentzer is wonderful as Nicklausse too. Vocally there is nothing to fault, and she's a fine actress. Her Barcarolle duet is sung beautifully and well-balanced. Guilietta and especially Antonia are performed beguilingly, and the chorus sing with a strong sound and are animated.
My two favourite performances though come from Samuel Ramey and Natalie Dessay. The four villainous roles of Lindorf, Dr Coppellius, Dappertutta and Dr Miracle dominate the opera in a way, and Ramey performs them brilliantly. His Scintille Diamant in Act 2 is one of my favourite renditions of the production, and he is very convincing acting-wise. Dessay's Doll Song is a tour-de-force, very cute and funny and displays a flexible colouratura and a technique to die for. Her high G in in the death scene has to be heard to be believed as well.
Overall, a great production. 9/10 Bethany Cox
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