[Met Performance] CID:278010
Les Contes d'Hoffmann {168} Metropolitan Opera House: 09/25/1984.

(Debut: Hillary Johnsson
Review)


Metropolitan Opera House
September 25, 1984


LES CONTES D'HOFFMANN {168}
Jacques Offenbach-Jules Barbier


Hoffmann (acted) .......William Lewis
Hoffmann (sung) ........Kenneth Riegel
Olympia.................Catherine Malfitano
Giulietta...............Catherine Malfitano
Antonia.................Catherine Malfitano
Stella..................Catherine Malfitano
Lindorf.................James Morris
Coppélius...............James Morris
Dappertutto.............James Morris
Dr. Miracle.............James Morris
Nicklausse..............Ariel Bybee
Muse....................Ariel Bybee
Andrès..................Andrea Velis
Cochenille..............Andrea Velis
Pitichinaccio...........Andrea Velis
Frantz..................Andrea Velis
Luther..................William Fleck
Nathanael...............Michael Best
Hermann.................Russell Christopher
Spalanzani..............Anthony Laciura
Schlemil................Morley Meredith
Crespel.................John Macurdy
Mother's Voice..........Hillary Johnsson [Debut]

Conductor...............Julius Rudel

Production..............Otto Schenk
Stage Director..........Lesley Koenig
Set designer............Günther Schneider-Siemssen
Costume designer........Gaby Frey
Lighting designer.......Gil Wechsler

Les Contes d'Hoffmann received fifteen performances this season.

[Neil Shicoff had been scheduled to sing this performance. His replacement, William Lewis, began the performance but lost his voice during the Prologue. For the remainder of the performance, he acted the role of Hoffmann while Kenneth Riegel sang from the orchestra pit.]


Review of Michael Redmond in the Newark Star Ledger

NEW YORK-Jacques Offenbach's "Les Contes d'Hoffmann" (The Tales of Hoffmann) may seem an incredible opera sometimes, what with a mechanical
doll that sings and dances and a sorcerer up to the usual dirty tricks. But truth seemed stranger than fiction at the Metropolitan Opera on Tuesday, when the Met presented its first "Hoffmann" of the season. It was the night of the three tenors.

Scheduled to sing, Neil Shicoff bowed out of the "Hoffmann" due to illness, and was duly replaced by William Lewis. At curtain, the management announced that Lewis was also ill, but had agreed to sing anyway. Lewis made it through the Prologue, but ran out of voice in the middle of Act I. It ended up that Kenneth Riegel sang Hoffmann from the orchestra pit, with Lewis lip-synching onstage (and not very effectively, either). At evening's end, they accepted applause arm-in-arm.

A spokesman for the Met, with remarkable sang-froid, described the circumstances as "unprecedented." It was all a shame, really, because the tenor crisis managed to distract attention from at least two wonderful aspects of this production. First, soprano Catherine Malfitano-as exquisite vocally as visually-followed in the footsteps of Joan Sutherland by singing Olympia,
Giulietta and Antonia, the three leading ladies of "Hoffmann." It's one of those legendary feats that many aspire to, and few dare to attempt. Miss Malfitano succeeded.

Julius Rudel was conducting this "Hoffmann," and despite the unusual circumstances, he conducted with his customary warmth and brilliance.
The production also featured a secondary cast that was no less than top-drawer. As the three-faced nemesis of poor Hoffmann, the virile and golden-throated James Morris demonstrated once again that he ranks among the finest singing actors on the Met's roster. Ariel Bybee sang Nicklausse with refreshing freedom and great appeal. In the roles of the four servants, Andrea Velis gave ample evidence to support the contention that his artistry partakes of genius.
Also, the young American mezzo soprano Hillary Johnsson made a memorable Met debut as Antonia's Mother. She sang sumptuously. She is also appearing this season as Giovanna in "Rigoletto."

But back to La Malfitano: The challenge of singing Hoffmann's three loves is to be found in the very different vocal styles the roles demand, and such are the problems that most productions use three sopranos. The role of Olympia
is all coloratura; Giulietta calls for creamy lyric singing, and Antonia pushes into the heavier dramatic domain.

Miss Matfitano was simply incandescent as Olympia and Antonia, and she made a convincing, if not ideal, Giulietta. Stagewise, she was breath-taking as all three, and it must be said that the filmy white costume she wore for Giulietta, the Venetian lady of pleasure, helped to distract attention from the vocal issues, to say the least.

And "Hoffmann" is best realized when one soprano can carry the three
roles, since the three characters-the doll, the courtesan, and the singer-are all aspects of the one "perfect" woman that Hoffmann is seeking.

The other star of this "Hoffmann," which was superbly directed by Otto Schenk, is the ingenious set design of Gunther Schneider-Siemssen. It's gimmicky, but then, so is the opera. The studio of Dr. Coppelius looked like a cross between Mission Control at Cape Canaveral and "Fantasy World" at Disneyland, and the magical entrances and exits of Dr. Miracle in Act III had the audience gasping-especially when he stepped out of the fireplace with a burst of flame. It's a gorgeous-looking production, start to finish.

"Les Contes d'Hoffmann" will be repeated Oct. 1 and 5-with, presumably,
Neil Shicoff singing at last.



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