Contes d´Hoffmann. Royal Danish Opera. September 2007. Production: Yannis Houvardis. Cast: Timothy Richards/Johnny Van Hal/Marc Soustrot (Hoffmann), Kjeld Christoffersen (The Villains), Tina Kiberg (Giulietta), Louise Fribo (Olympia), Anne-Margrethe Dahl (Antonia). Conductor: Marc Soustrot.
The Royal Danish Opera opened the season at the Copenhagen Opera House with a unintentionally hilarious new production of Offenbach´s Contes d´Hoffmann.
Just before curtain-up, artistic director Kasper Bech Holten appeared in front of the curtain with the following statement:
That Johnny Van Hal singing Hoffmann unfortunately was ill, and the cover Nikolai Schukoff was available for all other evenings....except this one.
That after phoning all of Europe, a tenor capable of singing the role (Timothy Richards) was found in Berlin and all was well....but then Scandinavian Airlines cancelled all flights from Berlin to Copenhagen.... however in the last minute he got on another plane and arrived in time for the production, but... it appeared that the version of Hoffmann he could sing was not the one used in Copenhagen, despite repeated promises from this agent to the contrary......so (and hold on here..):
Some of the part Timothy Richards could sing in French, some of it he could only sing in German... and some of it he couldn´t sing at all.... - and these parts would therefore be sung by the conductor Marc Soustrot (!!) Johnny Van Hal would be acting the part and Timothy Richards would be singing from the pit.
Absolutely hilarious. In fact, the audience were offered their money back/tickets for another performance if they chose to leave, which only 5-10 people did. Ín fact, the unintentional hilariousness apart, that there was no reason to do so either.
Yannis Houvardis presented an interesting stage concept portraying Hoffmann as an essentially lonely man, estranged from women and incapable of deeper feelings. The opera is staged as a peep-show - we are inside a cinema, we see the various characters on stage and realize that the three womens´ tales essentially are a copy of one another. Depersonalized, the women only exist for viewing pleasures. In fact, Hoffmann is the actual killer of all three women, delivered to him by The Villains.
The mix of Timothy Richards, Johnny Van Hal and the conductor Marc Soustrot as Hoffmann worked out surprisingly well . In fact Soustrot didn´t actually sing much - it was my impression that Johnny Van Hal sang a couple of lines as well - and thus overshadowed Soustrot, whom I´m sure I heard at least once. Difficult to judge Timothy Richards, but he had a pleasant voice. But true enough - after 20 minutes of French singing, he suddenly said something in German. And this repeated itself throughout. Johnny Van Hal was moving around stage piping up when both of his substitutes (Richards and the conductor Soustrot) gave up.
The former musical actress Louise Fribo was excellent as Olympia with clear on-pitch coloratura. Tina Kiberg was, as always, capable of generating drama on stage, though her vocal line is not what it has been. Fine Villains from Kjeld Christoffersen, though in this staging, the real villain is Hoffmann.
All this unintentional hilariousness was practically worth double the entrance ticket...