While not one of my all-time favourites, Les Contes D'Hoffmann is an opera I like very much as I have always found the structure interesting and the music especially the Doll's Song, Scintille Diamant and Barcarolle wonderful. I did have high expectations for this 2004 production as I admire Desiree Rancatore and Ruggero Raimondi, but while it is certainly not a terrible production I was let down, especially after seeing the 1981 Domingo and 2003 Shicoff performances.
What I loved: The orchestral playing was very lively in the Doll's Song and delicate in the Barcarolle, and the conducting is suitably assured. There were a couple of staging touches I did enjoy, my favourite being where Dr Miracle dons red operating gloves as he directs Antonia with a sheet covering a chaise longue. It was a touch that was somewhat spooky, but very effective. The costumes and sets on the whole are very colourful and imaginative especially in Act 1 with only Act 3 coming across as sparse, the video projections are interesting and the camera work is unobtrusive, focusing on the action and not relying too much on close-ups. Of the singers, the most consistent was Desiree Rancatore, whose Olympia was the main reason why Act 1 worked so well. The singing is very flexible in Les Oiseaux Dans La Charmille(the Doll's Song) with a bang-on climatic high note, while she manages to be adorable and hilarious. Annalisa Raspagliosi's Antonia is very moving and she possesses a lovely rich voice. Alongside the four villains of the opera, Nicklause in a way is the role that drives the opera and Elsa Maurus' performance is instantly appealing with a firm beautiful mezzo. The choreography is good also.
What I was mixed on: Vincenzo La Scola has a wonderful voice, big enough for the role's demands and ringing in tone. Actually vocally he is one of the better tenors I've heard in the role. Where I wasn't so convinced was in his acting, mind you I always have found La Scola a hit and miss actor. He is better than he was in Giovanna D'Arco, but overall as Hoffmann he is too stolid and sometimes even looks bored, I never felt the character's torment or his gentle side in the way I did with Domingo. As I have said previously and many times before, I admire Ruggero Raimondi as a singing-actor. Dramatically as the four villains of the opera he is superb especially as Dr Miracle in Act 3 where he is very commanding and sinister. Sadly, his voice has seen better days, in the 1979 Don Giovanni, 1984 Carmen and 1992 Tosca it was a quite sonorous voice, but here it sounds rather threadbare. This is particularly true in Dappertutto's diamond aria Scintille Diamant, where his low notes are underpowered and his high notes having a screaming quality to them. Sara Allegreta is actually not as problematic, she has a lovely voice and the Barcarolle is sung and blended beautifully, it's just that I would've liked to have seen more of a femme-fatale edge.
What I didn't like so much: Lorenzo Muzzi's Crespel is well portrayed, but vocally he is rather limited, and that is pretty much the same thing applies with the person who plays Frantz. The sound quality is often too distant and lacks immediacy, while the dancers' footsteps and stage noise is far too noisy even in Act 1. In conclusion, just lacked that extra something, but has its merits for me to partially recommend it. 6/10 Bethany Cox
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