My intent when booking the ticket for another “Tales of Hoffmann” was to see Aleksandra Kurzak interpreting all 4 roles, and to see how Ildar Abdrazakov will play 4 various villains. None of it materialised since both pulled out and were replaced: Kurzak by a combo of Olga Pudova and Diana Damrau, and Abdrazakov by Nicolas Testé. So, that offered great opportunity to evaluate two new names and provided a chance to see Michael Spyres in quite a different role compared to recent “Mitridate” at Royal Opera House.
The production by Richard Jones is relatively old, been on Bayerisches Staatsoper stage since 2011. The stage setup is used throughout the performance with minor modifications, like changing scene props (noisily!) and lighting. The curtain with enormous opium pipe with Hoffman’s facial features on its head, cloned in 4 pieces held by Hoffmann and his 3 permanent observers, exhales beautiful smoke rings which turn into names of former loved ones.
The main protagonist, Hofmann, is kept under permanent intoxication throughout the opera, either by puffing off on illusions inducing pipe, or consolating himself with another drink, helpfully offered by hands appearing from the prompter’s box. Michael Spyres managed to create his character as both comic and tragic one, – well epitomised in two different interpretations of Kleinzach – playful and humorous in the first act, and angry, threatening in the finale. Spyres demonstrated his great acting ability, and so natural stage presence – none of his movements seemed rehearsed, so fluid and natural. Spyres was vocally impressive in the first part of the performance, excellent in Olympia scene, voice flowing easily and soaring above sometimes loud orchestra. Somehow he run out of power in the second part and in Antonia scene finale the delivery of the line suffered.
It has to be mentioned, that the star of the night was the “second ego” of Hoffmann: the idea of Niclaus / Muse as another ‘me’ in childish attire confronting mature and grim world where love is hard to find was admirably played and sung by Angela Brower. Her stage talent grows both vocally and dramatically, and she easily turned a secondary role into the main protagonist.
Diana Damrau had two singing parts (Antonia and Giulietta) and an extra acting part as Stella. Her Antonia was sensual and passionate, she got sympathies of the whole audience, her voice silvery and easy at the top, bright. Not as touching as her Violetta, but fully immersed into the role. In that particular scene there was noticeable stage chemistry with Spyres. Somehow Giulietta scene felt a bit awkward, that probably was due to directorial intent to make if obviously vulgar and demonstrate mercantilism of the heroine, who lures her victims by charms and steals their reflections in the huge magnifying mirror for a nice fee. Vocally the role is less demanding than Antonia, and even if acting was convincing, overall impression went amiss.
Olga Pudova as Olympia earned roaring applause and ovations for her excellent contribution both vocally and dramatically: her crystalline coloratura with laser cut staccato and perfectly measured moves were utmostly impressive. She certainly earns a place on the young and the promising watchlist. It was a pleasure to see that a cast replacement provided an opportunity for discovery.
Another new name on the list is bass Nicolas Testé – impersonating all 4 villains he managed to find different vocal colours and proved himself as an excellent actor. Probably Dr.Miracle might use some more evil and vocal sophistication, while role delivery from inside piano compensated for such shortcoming.
The performance was one before last to close Munich Opera Festival this year, fully sold out, and packed despite regular July heat and Sunday evening. There was a parallel performance of “Oberon”, also live-streamed, from Prinzregententheater next door at the same time, probably thus main attention of the Munich audience diverted to fresh production. Anyway, the evening well spent, – time to plan for next summer!
Les Contes d’Hoffmann
Opéra fantastique in five acts
Composer Jacques Offenbach · Libretto by Jules Barbier after the play by Jules Barbier and Michel Carré, edited by Michael Kaye and Jean-Christophe Keck
Munich Opera Festival
Sunday, 30. July 2017
Conductor Constantin Trinks
Director Richard Jones
Sets Giles Cadle
Costumes Buki Shiff
Choreographie Lucy Burge
Lights Mimi Jordan Sherin
Dramaturgie Rainer Karlitschek
Chorus Sören Eckhoff
Olympia Olga Pudova
Antonia, Giulietta, Stella Diana Damrau
Cochenille, Pitichinaccio, Frantz Kevin Conners
Lindorf, Coppélius, Dapertutto, Miracle Nicolas Testé
Nicklausse/Muse Angela Brower
Stimme aus dem Grab Okka von der Damerau
Hoffmann Michael Spyres
Spalanzani Ulrich Reß
Nathanaël Dean Power
Hermann Sean Michael Plumb
Schlémil Christian Rieger
Wilhelm Galeano Salas
Crespel, Luther Peter Lobert
Chor der Bayerischen Staatsoper