Sunday, February 01, 2015

Les Contes d'Hoffmann at the MET

When they tell the story of the Peter Gelb years at the Metropolitan Opera, and they get down to the new productions that he brought to the house, I am sure that Bartlett Sher's kaleidoscopic vision of Jacques Offenbach's Les Contes d'Hoffmann (with sets and costumes by Michael Yeargan and Catherine Zuber) will be at the head of the list. This was a creation that was originally devised for Rolando Villaz√≥n and Anna Netrebko -- a perfect vehicle to follow their Willy Decker produced La Traviata smash at Salzburg the previous summer. Of course, the Mexican tenor sensation became mysteriously ill, and was replaced by Maltese tenor Joseph Calleja, who also dropped out of a few performances due to illness. Tenor David Pomeroy covered for Mr. Calleja. Meanwhile, Netrebko sang all of the initial performances and soared, giving one of the most memorable performances of the year.  Her Antonia became one of the highlights of her MET career, eclipsed, perhaps this season by her astonishing turn as Lady Macbeth. The original production was conducted by James Levine, who back in December of 2009 was still able to walk to the podium. Later on in the season, Mr. Levine will come back to this production with a fresh, new cast.

Yesterday, Yves Abel, the young Canadian conductor led an excellent performance that was broadcast in HD throughout the world. Vittorio Grigolo, in excellent voice, played Hoffmann with the kind of aplomb we all expect from anyone taking on this challenging part. He knows how to use his voice for the MET. He knows that it pays to push a little more while maintaining vocal focus. The result is a big voice which audiences react positively to. An accomplished actor, he was even able to drape a tablecloth around his shoulders, crouch down and perform a kind of bear dance shuffle along the apron of the stage in a reprise of the Kleinzach number, a stage direction vaguely reminiscent of a Jewish man with a prayer shawl, and an obvious reference to Offenbach's German-Jewish heritage.

The women in Hoffmann's life were a mixed lot yesterday. Although Kate Lindsey playing the dual role of Nicklausse and The Muse was a believable actress, at times her deep mezzo was overwhelmed by the orchestration. Likewise, Hibla Gerzmava was a stentorian Antonia but her voice was just large and unfocused. As the doll Olympia, Erin Morley's light coloratura fared much better, and she was able to convey the robot-like qualities of the role quite nicely. Christine Rice was a memorable Giulietta, lending beautiful harmonies for the well-known Barcarolle that begins the Venetian act.

Thomas Hampson is touch-and-go these days. Yesterday, his voice sounded drier than usual, and he resorted to force it during some dramatic moments. Overall, it was an uneven vocal reading of the four villains, but not terrible. His stage presence and manicured-perfect acting made up for any of the vocal low points along the way.

I am looking forward for this production's return this season with a new cast, and featuring the return of Mr. Levine. 

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