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San Francisco’s Tales of Hoffman is Right on Target with Natalie Dessay

Let’s be clear right from the start: the joint effort of Barcelona, San Francisco and Lyon, vocally powerful in this production, is right on target. Because quite simply, precise, explicit, slimmed-down, fast-paced–in a word, successful–it unquestionably achieves its goal. No use rehashing the libretto’s history or the structure of these Tales. That would be opening too large a can of worms. Happily, our colleague Catherine Scholler has deciphered the puzzle for us (cf. Les Contes d’Hoffmann, Pleyel, 2012, ResMusica.) and ’s version reigns here, seasoned very slightly by Choudens and Oeser. The dialogue, written by dramaturge for Lausanne in 2005, retouched for Barcelona (February, 2013). The sets by Chantal Thomas work very well; sparse, austere (discreet), bluish-gray, dark or black, made up of those sliding panels which can either reduce or enlarge a space, Lewis Carroll’s Alice would find them most acceptable. The costumes, black, middle class, reminiscent of Haussmann in their eclectic style. The staging, incisive and ardent, almost minimalist, simplicity itself, tells the tale. Overall, Pelly leaves fantasy at the door and recreates, completely unadorned, the illusions and ramblings, the desires and doubts of an old drunk, unbalanced and depressed, an erstwhile poet, lovelorn and frustrated.

The bright lyric voice of (Olympia) is a pleasant surprise but some stratospheric notes are singularly lacking in stability and pitch. Deeply involved, ’s Antonia, interpreted with intelligence and commitment, moves you from start to finish. The dialogue is carefully “spoken.”… The voice, bright and clear, with a sensitive and open upper register, can also be intimate when necessary. ’ Giulietta, as well as ’s Stella, hit the mark. Their voices are rich and sensual, even opulent. At first, seems uninvolved and disappoints; his subdued delivery, stiff intonation, tentative high notes, make one fear the worst. But our Hoffmann manages to recover by Act II and suddenly, charming, masterful–even imposing–he pulls it off. After a shaky Prologue and Act I, the voice, solid and well-honed, with an engaging timbre, negotiates every curve with eloquence and punch. Equally noteworthy, the excellent , a classy Mephisto, and the excellent . The rest of the cast clearly holds its own. The Chorus, frequently thrilling, under the limpid, superbly smooth, efficient direction of , participates fully in these Tales. The last stanza of Kleinzach’s song in Act V brings us full circle. Finally, it’s all clear. Finally, we get the whole picture. Curtain!… And, fantasy, begone!

Crédit photographique : © Terrence McCarthy

Translated by Miriam Ellis

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