Offenbach’s Les Contes d’Hoffmann is the most enduring ‘serious’ opera from a composer better known for his operettas and this 2016 revival of legendary film director John Schlesinger’s sumptuous 1980 production provides the perfect vehicle in which Offenbach’s story – in turn witty, erotic, and macabre – and highly melodious music come together to form a deeply and satisfying whole.
Set in the 19th C, the great storyteller Hoffmann (Vittorio Grigòlo) is losing himself to drink. His rival in love, Councillor Lindorf (Thomas Hampson), claims that Hoffmann knows nothing of the heart, and so goads Hoffmann into telling the tales of his three great loves – each destroyed by a villain who bears an uncanny resemblance to Lindorf…
First Hoffmann tells of his infatuation for the mechanical doll, Olympia (Sofia Fomina) – who is destroyed by the inventor Coppélius. Next comes the courtesan Giulietta (Christina Rice), who throws over his adoration in favour of jewels from the magician Dappertutto. Finally, the gentle Antonia (Sonya Yoncheva) is forced to sing to her death by the wicked Doctor Miracle. His stories finished, Hoffmann rouses from his drunken stupor to find Lindorf has made off with Stella (Olga Sabadoch), Hoffmann’s latest love – but his spiritual muse, Nicklausse (Kate Lindsey), the accompanying but oft ignored voice of reason throughout, compels him to transform his heartache into art.
Drawing on styles from both Hoffmann and Offenbach’s times, William Dudley’s magnificent set designs and Maria Björnson’s sumptuous costumes realise to brilliant effect the extravagant flourishes of Hoffmann’s imaginative world, although with two intervals and two lengthy stage pauses for scene changes, Conductor Evelino Pidò has to sweep the orchestra along, whilst remaining alert to the dramatic ambiguities and mercurial shifts in mood and its occasional nod to the melodies of the synagogue.
Grigòlo is the star of the show as Hoffman and throws himself body and soul into portraying this man of many parts with great energy – with his ‘Kleinzach’ a particular delight with its hint of klezmorim – as the tales, real or imagined, begin to unravel and dreams and desires turn to despair and disillusionment.
In the outstanding comic moment of the opera, Fomina provides a delightfully jerky performance as the doll Olympia whose battery keeps running down as she sings and performs it beautifully. Rice provides a dangerous yet seductive Giuletta whilst Yoncheva’s fragile Antonia is heart-breaking. With a glint in his eye and a knowing wink, Hampson dogs Hoffmann throughout with a suitable mix of humour, menace, and charm in his alter-ego roles. Lindsey excels throughout as Nicklausse with her mimicry of Olympia in particular a delight to watch. A special mention for Vincent Ordonneau who wonderfully plays the four servants portrayed in each scene
Reviewer: Mark Davoren
Reviewed: 11th October 2020
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★