Sunday, December 20, 2009

Les Contes d'Hoffmann, Met, New York 19. Dec 2009

On 19. December 2009 it was the fifth performance of the run of the new Met production of Offenbach's "Les Contes d'Hoffmann", starring Joseph Calleja as Hoffmann, Anna Netrebko as Antonia/Stella, Kathleen Kim as Olympia, Ekaterina Gubanova as Giulietta, Alan Held as the four villains and Kate Lindsey as Nicklausse/Muse. James Levine conducted the Chorus and Orchestra of the Metropolitan Opera House. The production was by Tony Award winner Bartlett Sher.

The performance on 19. Dec 2009 has been transmitted live to selected movie theaters around the world as part of The Met: Live in HD Series. It has been also live broadcast over the Toll Brothers-Metropolitan Opera International Radio Network.

It will be broadcast on Great Performances at the Met on PBS on Wednesday 24. March 2010.

Les Contes d'Hoffmann
Music by Jacques Offenbach
Libretto by Jules Barbier and Michel Carré, based on stories by E.T.A. Hoffmann

Metropolitan Opera House, New York 19. December 2009

Hoffmann: Joseph Calleja
Olympia: Kathleen Kim
Antonia: Anna Netrebko
Giulietta: Ekaterina Gubanova
Stella: Anna Netrebko
Lindorf: Alan Held
Coppélius: Alan Held
Dappertutto: Alan Held
Dr. Miracle: Alan Held
Nicklausse: Kate Lindsey
Muse: Kate Lindsey
Andrès: Alan Oke
Cochenille: Alan Oke
Pitichinaccio: Alan Oke
Frantz: Alan Oke
Luther: Dean Peterson
Nathanael: Rodell Rosel
Hermann: Michael Todd Simpson
Spalanzani: Mark Schowalter
Schlemil: Michael Todd Simpson
Crespel: Dean Peterson
Antonia's Mother Voice: Wendy White

Conductor: James Levine
Chorus and Orchestra of the Metropolitan Opera House

Production: Bartlett Sher
Set Designer: Michael Yeargan
Costume Designer: Catherine Zuber
Lighting Designer: James F. Ingalls
Choreographer: Dou Dou Huang

About the Opera
Opera Background
Cast and Characters
About the Composer
Story and Music

Upcoming Live Broadcasts
The performances on 23. and 30. Dec 2009 will be live broadcast on Sirius Satellite Radio channel 78 and XM channel 79. Furthermore the performance on 23. Dec 2009 will be live broadcast via RealNetworks internet streaming on the Met website.

Our friend Howard and his wife Paula attended this performance live at the Met. Howard kindly wrote the followind detailed report for the blog:
My wife Paula and I attended the "Les Contes d'Hoffmann" performance at the MET on 19-December which was also simulcast around the world as a live broadcast. As snow was encroaching on New York City, the crowds came out to see the Tales of Hoffmann.

I totally agree with Irina, that there is truly nothing like a live performance, although this spectacle deserves a second review with the encore HD performance in January. Although there were some vacant seats due the inclement weather it was clear that Netrebko has her devoted following. The gift shop was playing a DVD of her Berlin Concert with Villazon and Domingo and copies were literally flying off the shelves. One woman flew in from Dallas just for this performance. The MET intentionally sanitized this production leaving out the partial nudity (G strings and pasties) reviewed by Anthony Tommasini of the New York Times.

There was a rousing ovation for James Levine who recently returned from back surgery for a ruptured disc. He has the uncanny ability to allow the orchestra to support, but not overpower the singers. Bartlet Sher the director pretty much took a static opera with no dimension of time or change of venue. and made a spectacle of the opera. While there were some incongruities, it pretty much came off rather well and was very well received.

Olympia, the mechanical doll played by Kathleen Kim was adorable, cute and sang with coloratura ease. She danced and walked like a mechanized doll as the voice lifted just like a young adolescent nymph. This was not the role for Netrebko. Although other productions have had wind up keys built into the costume, this rendition was just adorable. Ekaterina Gubanova as Giuletta was stiff and uninspiring. The part of Nicklausse sung by Kate Lindsay was just average, as her voice and expression appear not ready for prime time. Alan Held had a commanding presence as Dr. Miracle and sang with convincing authority.

The clear winners of the afternoon were Joseph Calleja as Hoffmann and Anna Netrebko as Antonia. Calleja displayed confidence, presence and endurance. His voice has an unusual tenderness and affection that is reminiscent of Jussi Bjorling. Calleja had strength, the ability to project and literally sang the entire opera without much rest. His tenderness in recounting his lost loves came across with passion and conviction. This is an enormous role early in his career and it was clear that he was up to the task.

Although Anna Netrebko's role as Antonia in the 2nd act was limited, she ruled the stage with passion, illumination and exquisite acting ability. One only has to think of her Salzburg Traviata for an analogy. Her deep Slavic tone and elegant poise was well suited to this role. She truly commanded the stage and all around her. Her duets with Hoffman were poignant, elegant and dramatic. She had the ability the sing along with his commanding presence. She was dressed in a beautiful nightgown that highlighted her style, grace and sumptuous figure. It is evident that she has lost much weight after her pregnancy, but her voice and timbre have become richer, more colored and exquisite. There were time when you could pick out her voice on top of the chorus. She has not lost her high register at all and there were some hints of exquisite trills in her singing. In short, this role was made for her, a sumptuous, melancholy lover with a great sense of pathos and drama.

At intermission, I met a gentlemen who was at her MET debut in War and Peace. He said that he heard a lone voice above the chorus that transcended all. He said that he knew then that she was very special as only time would demonstrate. He loved her role here, but was not as enthusiastic about her coloratura capabilities in Lucia last year.

The production did have some weaknesses that seemed to detract from the overall message. In the opening of the third act which simulated an orgy or bordello, the well choreographed dancers with exquisitely flexible bodies were on top of men reminiscent of strippers at a bar. Their modern day costumes seemed out of place from the elegant victorian gowns and long coat worn by Hoffmann. My wife found some of this mildly offensive and inappropriate. If this was the sanitized version, I am sure that other performances had similar responses.

Parts of the opera appeared to make fun of the Jews and were mildly anti-Semitic in nature. While not offensive, it is clear that Bartlet Sher chose to highlight these issues in his interpretation. I found it to be mildly amusing and perhaps this reflects some of Offenbach's beliefs.

Some general thoughts are in order. Having attended opera and concerts throughout Europe, I am astounded by the lack of decorum of many participants in the audience. On a Saturday afternoon where tickets are rather expensive, I am shocked by people dressed in dungarees and sweatshirts. My opinion is that the audience should be respectful to others in the audience as well as the performers. People sitting next to me in the opera talked throughout the opera and you could hear the incessant vibration of cell phone and occasional audible ones that were extremely bothersome. As Hoffmann was singing his heart out in the 3rd act, a cell phone went off at the most inopportune time. I realize that times are much more casual than in the past, but a modicum of decorum, appropriate dress and behavior is a rather low bar for such an exquisite art form.

In closing our trip to NYC was well worth the effort. Netrebko was enchanting, ravishing and skilled in her abilities. Our trip home was delayed by snow and ice, but fortunately we had a young female bus driver that was safety conscious, courteous and skilled in her driving abilities. She had to stop 4-5 times to clear ice from the wipers. Fortunately she beat the storm as she traveled North to Boston.

Looking forward to Boheme later this spring as well as Carmen with Garanca.
On-line Press Reports
Channeling Fellini - The Wall Street Journal, 22. Dec 2009 - By Heidi Waleson [English]
Offenbach: Les Contes d'Hoffmann - Musical Criticism, 27. Dec 2009 - By David Abrams [English]
`Los cuentos de Hoffmann' una joya del siglo XXI - El Nuevo Herald, 29. Dec 2009 - By Daniel Fernandez [Spanish]

On-line Blog Reports
Mark Ronan's Theatre Reviews: Les Contes d’Hoffmann, Metropolitan Opera live relay, December 2009
Can Belto: An even better Hoffman
Maldito Candelabro: "Hoffmann" desde el Met: Sensualidad decadente
CNY Café Momus: The Met’s Contes d’Hoffmann: an engaging journey from id to ego to ear

"Elle a fui, la tourterelle", Les Contes d'Hoffmann, Met 19. Dec 2009 - Anna Netrebko

Deborah Voigt interviews Joseph Calleja and Anna Netrebko, Les Contes d'Hoffmann, Met 19. Dec 2009

Finale, Les Contes d'Hoffmann, Met 19. Dec 2009

Related Posts
Les Contes d'Hoffmann, Met, New York 3. December 2009

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  1. The Antonia's act stopped my breath !
    Anna seemed a bit tired or stressed and her first aria was not as good as for the other days... (but still good).
    But after that the voice bloomed as she gained confidence. The duet with Calleja was very good and the trio very impressive and heartbreaking. She easily dominated them.
    As she was dying, a big and real tear ran on her cheek, letting me totally schocked !
    I don't know if she made it on purpose or if she was submerged by the emotion but it was purely amazing.

    Her portrayal of Antonia was a very strong one. She was not the naïve and innocent Antonia, the poor victim without temper, but a stronger (but still moving) Antonia, willing to sing and loving the music to the point of dying for.
    Her big beautiful voice suited this very well and her singing made this even more palpable.

    I think that Anna has very well understood the libretto and the score of Antonia.
    She may not be very talkative about the characters she plays in interviews neither explaining during hours what she thinks, but for sure she works hard on it backstage and lives it on stage and that's why singers are supposed to do. (I always laugh when singers or stage directors can talk during hours about the part... and then nothing happens on stage).
    That's a part of why she's so amazing : she is a very clever and committed performer. Her portrayals always convince me because she believes in what she does and really tries to understand what the score says.
    Nice work indeed.

  2. I agree with AL. Anna's performance was THE highlight of the whole opera. Butr apart from the 3rd act I found the production a bit dull and not very much inspiring. Maybe it was due to the very conservative taste of the audience in the MET? Another very promising performance was given by Kate Lindsey as Nicklausse - what a stage presence! - There was a big laughter in the cinema when Anna, being asked what she likes about the role of Antonia, simply answered: "It is short - and brilliant!" Perfect!

  3. I generally agree with both comments. There are things you can see in the cinema that you can't observe in the opera house and vice versa.

    We loved the performance immensely and it demonstrated Netrebko's love and skill in this dramatic art form.



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