[Met Performance] CID:279200
Les Contes d'Hoffmann {178} Metropolitan Opera House: 01/11/1985.

(Review)


Metropolitan Opera House
January 11, 1985


LES CONTES D'HOFFMANN {178}
Jacques Offenbach-Jules Barbier


Hoffmann................Alfredo Kraus
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..................Andrij Dobriansky
Nathanael...............Michael Best
Hermann.................John Darrenkamp
Spalanzani..............Anthony Laciura
Schlemil................Morley Meredith
Crespel.................John Macurdy
Mother's Voice..........Jean Kraft

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

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

Review of Peter G. Davis in the New York Magazine issue of January 28, 1985

Sometimes an unheralded change in cast can work wonders on a familiar Metropolitan Opera production, even "The Tales of Hoffmann," which lapsed into tired routine a couple of seasons ago barely before the paint had dried on Gunther Schneider-Siemssen's dazzling fantasyland sets. The catalyst at work, in this instance, is Alfredo Kraus, whose classic performance of Hoffmann has, until now, been seen and admired almost everywhere except at the Met. His aristocratic presence seems to have had a salutary effect on the entire cast, especially Catherine Malfitano in her triple assignment as Olympia, Giulietta, and Antonia.

That said, this is decidedly not a Hoffmann for anyone who feels that opera is at its most exciting when singers improvise freely and spontaneously, caught up in the passions of the moment. Both Kraus and Malfitano are cool performers who carefully calculate every vocal and dramatic effect, leaving very little to chance or sudden inspiration - a fact that might explain why Kraus, at the age of 57, still sounds so amazingly secure in this difficult role. Younger singers might profitably learn from a tenor so thoroughly in touch with his voice, as he takes the measure of the music, adjusts his resources, and spins out vocal lines of incomparable grace and beauty. This Hoffmann knows exactly those parts of the opera where he can pamper his voice, where he should modulate it into a flexible and expressive instrument, and where he must not hold back but reach for a ringing top note. All of this could easily degenerate into preciousness, but Kraus's intelligence and musicality preclude any suggestion of empty mannerism. A great performance.

Catherine Malfitano is a singer with many of these same valuable instincts, and perhaps her slightly more studied and self-conscious stage manner will be corrected in time. At any rate, she and Kraus are kindred spirits in this Hoffmann, and they seem to move and sing together with a special sense of harmony. Malfitano's feverishly intense Antonia has always been an affecting creation - an obsessively driven personality constantly on fire and tragically consumed as she literally sings herself to death. Her Olympia has also become a visual tour de force, even if the coloratura continues to remain a bit out of her reach. Malfitano presents a mechanical doll whose timing is so precise that it verges on the sinister, rather like a clockwork Callas. This Olympia is properly funny in her knee-jerk way, but she is also quite clearly a vicious instrument of destruction created by Hoffmann's evil genius. Both these remarkable singers will be appearing in Offenbach's opera a few more times before the end of the month and they should not be missed.



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