Wednesday 26 November 2008

London: Rolando Villazón triumphs in Hoffmann´s Tales

Les Contes d´Hoffmann. Royal Opera, Covent Garden. November 25th 2008. Production: Schlesinger. Cast: Rolando Villazón (Hoffmann), Gidon Saks (Villains), Ekaterina Lekhina (Olympia), Christine Rice (Giulietta), Katie van Kooten (Antonia), Kristine Jepson (Muse), Graham Clark (Servants). Conductor: Antonio Pappano. Further information here

First things first: 99,9% of the sold-out Royal Opera audience came to hear Rolando Villazón, and in that regard, the news are unequivocally good.

Rolando Villazón just keeps getting better and better, and his Hoffmann was undisputedly the best performance I have heard from him since his "come-back" earlier this season: For the first time, he seemed to sing entirely with his reserves as opposed to tearing on his capital. He was completely unrestrained, exposing his wonderfully dark tone, which becomes increasingly pronounced. Even his acting seemed more relaxed (as opposed to adolescently neurotic) and he was completely convincing in all aspects of Hoffmann: From the drunkard to the desperate lover. Perhaps he only gave 100% as opposed to his normal 110%, but it was more than enough to make the evening.

Of the women, Christine Rice (Giulietta) was clearly the best with a lush, unstrained and seductive voice. Most applause went to Ekaterina Lekhina´s Doll, and she did hit all the notes as well as look appropriately Doll-like. Both Kristine Jepson and Katie van Kooten were rather anonymous presences, dramatically as well as vocally. Effective, though not beautifully sung, Villains were delivered from Gidon Saks and Graham Clarke´s hilarious Servants deserve mentioning as well.

Antonio Pappano delivered an optimal reading of Hoffmann: He takes the score seriously and provides an engaged, dramatic reading, which I don´t think may be improved much on.

What may be improved on, obviously, is John Schlesinger´s utterly traditional and dusty 1980´s- something production (previously released on DVD with Plácido Domingo). A new production is more than overdue, though it ages better than many similar productions.

The performance was dedicated to the memory of the recently deceased conductor Richard Hickox.

The bottom line (scale of 1-5, 3=average):

Rolando Villazón: 5
Ekaterina Lekhina: 4
Christine Rice: 4
Katie van Kooten: 3
Kristine Jepson: 3
Gidon Saks: 4

Schlesinger´s production: 3

Antonio Pappano: 5

Overall impression: 4


Anonymous said...

Very, very good news !

I hope a next dvd or BBC broadcast (???)

Thanks from Paris for these interesting informations.


ChristinaLuise said...

I agree with Catherine. I hope that a DVD will be released ! =)

Anonymous said...

"Recently diseased"??????!!!!!!

Hariclea said...

Hey, it seems we all did flock to see this Hoffmann ;-) It was true and unrestrained enjoyment and i could be happier about Rolando' performance.

curzon said...

I saw the second performance of the run. Villazon was not in faultless voice - a slight crack in the hideously exposed piano duet "C'etait un chanson d'amour" and the last "Toujours a toi!" did not ring the rafters in the way we all hoped. But he was a man vocally transformed since the Don Carlo. His commitment to the role is total and he received a well deserved ovation at the end.
All the women were good without particularly effacing memories of some pretty illustrious predecessors (Serra,Baltsa and Cotrubas particularly)
Gidon Saks was a terrifying presence as the villains but his voice is more suited to german, russian and british rep (he is a superb Claggart). For me the ne plus ultra in this role remains Ramey who had the ideal combination of heft, line and superb high notes.
Graham Clark was excellent in the servant roles. he actually managed to make Frantz lovable and funny rather than merely annoying.
Some revieweres complained that Pappano's conducting lacked French style but I have never found Hoffman particularly French in style anyway.

mostly opera... said...

Catherine and ChristinaLuise - A DVD release is highly unlikely as this production has already been released on DVD with Plácido Domingo and furthermore is not "starry" enough.

However, the MET is pulling all the stops with a superstar casted Hoffmann to open December 2009 (Rolando Villazón, René Pape, Anna Netrebko, Elina Garanca, Bartlett Sher directs, James Levine conducts), which normally reliable sources tell me will be shown live in HD as well as released on DVD.

Unknown said...

And let's hope that the Met's production at least gets the correct order of the acts (Olympia, Antonia, Giulietta--Nicklausse tells us as much in the epilogue). As one British reviewer pointed out, the edition is now discredited. I'm glad Rolando is doing well. I can't wait to hear him in Lucia next year.

Horace Cope said...

"I'm glad Rolando is doing well. I can't wait to hear him in Lucia next year."

If in was the Met production - I think we are still waiting !

I heard one of later performances of Hoffman in which he had a very slow start. However by the end he was superb.

Hoffman is a very odd opera which I have seen a number of times and can't really make out. I can't helping think Massenet or Gounod would have written it much better.

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