God I love French opera! There’s just something about the French angle on opera, from the 17th Century to today, that really engages me. I’m beginning to think that it’s “the fantastic” in French opera that turns me on, and Jacques Offenbach’s Les Contes d’Hoffman (Tales of Hoffman) has that in spades.
Even moreso in director Bartlett Sher’s production, which is now easily my favorite operatic work by Sher. He matches Hoffman’s phantasmagorical love stories with elaborate exuberance and color; Sher’s productions that have worked less well for me have tended to oversimplify, so this complexity is most welcome.
Offenbach’s masterpiece follows a highly fictionalized version of German Romantic author E. T. A. Hoffmann through tales of his lost loves, which may or may not be true. The real vocal draw of this production is Vittorio Grigolo as Hoffman. He portrays the lovesick writer with real magnetism and charisma, and is possessed of a clarion voice that is engaging and robust.
The other vocal highlight is Erin Morley as the beautiful automaton Olympia. Hoffman and Offenbach were both great devotees of Mozart, and Olympia owes a lot to Mozart’s Queen of the Night. Like that Queen, in her big aria Olympia hits long sequences of ridicuously high notes, and Morley executes this spectacular piece of music with confidence and style. She also walks a fine line acting-wise, successfully portraying a machine that is able to imitate human behavior.
I go to the opera as much to see spectacular, epic flights of visual imagination as to hear great singing. This Hoffman has plenty of both, which makes it easy to recommend.
For tickets, click here.
To learn about Jonathan Warman’s directing work, see jonathanwarman.com.