Only for some of the singing and the musical values
I do love Les Contes D'Hoffmann, the music is wonderful and the opera has a very interesting story structure. And it is not as if there are not any good productions of the opera out there, the 1981 Domingo and 2003 Shicoff productions are great and the Powell/Pressburger film is timeless. The Morris/Troyanos production and the Met production from two or three years are also worth seeing. I was mixed on the Rancatore/Raimondi performance, and on the whole disliked the Van Dam/Dessay performance if more for the visuals and staging rather than the singing.
But it is this 2006 production that is the worst Hoffmann I've seen. The orchestral playing is strong throughout, and Alain Guingal's conducting is solid and musical enough if not really enigmatic. There are a few great performances too, the best being Milagros Poblador's flexible and very energetic Olympia. Konstantin Gorny also does a great job in the four villainous roles, particularly intense as Dr Miracle. Katherine Goeldner is a commanding Muse/Nicklausse, blending beautifully with Valentina Kutzarova's Giulietta in the Barcarolle. Maria Bayo is very poignant as Antonia, although her act is staged in too cynical a way.
There were a couple of performances I was mixed on though. Acquilles Machado sings gorgeously as Hoffmann, but having a good voice doesn't alone make it a good performance. Here Machado is made to act like a demented hunchback sort of character, and is made to act too much like a drunk and a loser in life. The poet in love aspect is a big part of Hoffmann's character and doesn't ever convince here. Valentina Kutzarova has a lovely agile voice, but I didn't ever find her believable as a courtesan. I didn't care for the secondary roles either, Christophe Fel is passable as Crespel, but if there is a more annoying Spalanzani(almost like a bad parody of Albert Einstein) than Christian Jean's then I have not seen it.
What really lets the production down is the visuals and staging(not to mention that I was disappointed by the lack of that catchy march tune opening Olympia's act). I had real difficulty believing that the same stage director who directed this production(Giancarlo Del Monaco) was the same one who directed the superb 1992 Met production of La Fanciulla Del West. In that production everything was evocative, the drama riveting and the characters interesting. Here the characters, especially Hoffmann, are distorted, and the sets are really cold and ugly in look. The staging just doesn't work, Antonia's act is far too cynical, but the worst touch was Cochenille moving a key up and down the bottom of Olympia's dress, a touch that left me unpleasantly shocked rather than amused.
On the whole, a poor production elevated only by decent musical values and some solid singing. A generous 4/10. Bethany Cox
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