Tales of Hoffmann

December 19, 2009
Met HD
Cinemark, Palo Alto, CA

What with one thing and another, I never did write about Hoffmann.  Which is too bad.  I’ve seen the opera several times recently – both West Bay and Pocket Opera mounted performances this millenium – and I like it more every time I hear it.  The Met production was much darker than other ones I’ve seen.  I won’t say I liked that aspect, but I admired the skill with which it was done.

The Prolog was great, particularly the choreography for Kleinsach, and it merged right into Act I.  Here, the little Korean soprano, Kathleen Kim, who played Victoria was a perfect “doll”.  Her stature, her makeup, her wig, her motions – she blinked her big round blue eyes just the way “Baby Rose” used to do – remember, kids?  Plus she had a beautiful voice.

I was really moved by Anna Netrebko as Antonia in Act II, particularly the second time I saw it.  And her interviews were great fun.

Act III was a bit disappointing.  It’s the darkest to start with, and director Bartlett Sher made it even darker.  I had the feeling that the singers and director had given their all in Act II and were just going through the motions to get to the Epilog.  Giulietta was quite unconvincing as the Courtesan and some of the carnival costumes were almost lewd.  I was most unhappy with the rendition of the opening Barcarolle.  To my mind, that is one of the most beautiful duets in all of opera.  The melody is simple but haunting and the instrumental and vocal development is intricate but simple enough for my untrained ear to follow.  In this production the antics of the carnival merrymakers were an ugly distraction from the beautiful music.  When I went to the Encore performance, I closed my eyes from the first note to well past the last and was happy to see that the music was still all I remembered.


Since I last wrote, I have also seen:

The Pirates of Penzance, not as an opera, but by Ballet San Jose.  Fun.

La Cenerentola by Opera San Jose.  A very competent production.  I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Il Trittico, a Euro-HD (twice), I forget if it was La Scala or Valencia.  Excellent.  I don’t think I had ever seen all three of them played together before (I understand that Puccini became quite irate when a company would present only 2 of them – and even more when they would pair 1 of them with a one-act by some other composer).  They are so different that they total to a magnificent whole.  Il Tabarro – short and very dark; Soeur Angelica – beautiful, sensitive, tragic – quite moving; Gianni Schicchi – riotously funny.  All well done with fairly minimum props.  Incidentally, last year I saw a student production of Soeur Angelica at Notre Dame de Namur University which I thought was even more moving.

The Magic Flute at NDNU – a surprisingly good student production.  Papageno was outstanding.

L’Orfeo by Monteverdi, a Euro-HD (twice).  Very different from the Gluck opera I saw last year at both Met HD and West Bay.  And both, of course, totally different from Offenbach’s Orpheus in the Underworld which Pocket Opera did a couple of years ago.  Fascinating how the same basic story can inspire such different treatments.  Fortunately, there is no need to rank them – I enjoyed them all.

Ciao – – Philip

PS  If you’d like to spend a charming six minutes more on opera, watch this video of an impromptu opera at a market in Italy. These things are called flash mobs.


My friend Charles Steele introduced me to several YouTube clips of different Olympias.  You can see totally different versions of the Doll’s Song by such stars as Joan Sutherland, Natalie Dessai, and Moira Shearer by Googling “Joan Sutherland youtube Olympia” etc.

For a very different take on Hoffman, see Chadwick Jenkins review of the movie by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger.  I haven’t seen it, but I’d sure like to. Read the review.


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