Les Contes d´Hoffmann. Salzburg Festival 2003. Production: David McVicar. Cast includes: Neil Schicoff (Hoffmann), Angelika Kirchschlager (Muse), Ruggero Raimondi (Villains), Waltraud Meier (Giulietta), Krassimira Stoyanova (Antonia). L´ubica Vargicová (Olympia). Conductor: Kent Nagano.
Unsurprisingly, David McVicar produced a tragic version of Hoffmann´s tales for the 2003 Salzburg Festival. Why write about this event 5 years later? It was shown on television, and if released on DVD, it will be first choice on the market, pushing Robert Carsen´s Paris version down to second place.
It is a very atmospheric staging, one of McVicar´s best. He succeeds brilliantly in capturing the essence of Hoffmann - provided one accepts his view of decadence and tragedy.
According to David McVicar, Hoffmann is an alcoholic and a looser. In the end, this Hoffmann simply dies, and the opera simply follows his death spiral. The imagery are slightly more glitzy aesthetical, but otherwise typical of David McVicar (Manon, Salome, Nozze, Rigoletto) portraying the fading elegance of a decaying society. On a related note, I though the naked muscular man with blood sprayed all over his back was a McVicar invention for his London Salome earlier this year. Not so. This man appears in the beginning of the Giulietta scene 5 years earlier in Salzburg...
Neil Schicoff is the perfect Hofmann for this sort of interpretation capturing the exact essence of desperation and tragedy as well as being vocally on top from. Accompanied by Ruggero Raimondi as the perfect villains, with the exact required undercurrent menacing presence. Vocally he may be past his prime, but not enough to make it matter: He still pulls of a scintillating Scintille Diamant. And looks excactly as I imagine the Villains to look.
Angelika Kirchschlager is quite simply the perfect Muse, here Hoffmann´s lover. As demonstrated by L´ubica Vargicová (surely one of the strangest names on the opera circuit) Olympia is not an easy part to bring off. Krassimira Stoyanova is a straight-foward, unsentimental and stylishly sung Antonia. And Waltraud Meier, though an unusual choice for Giulietta and slightly unusual sounding, nevertheless is entirely captivating as well as in fine voice.
My main reservation of this production, and unfortunately not a negligeable one, is Kent Nagano. Never the conductor of a dense romatic approach he choses a lighter reading, unfortunately not fitting David McVicar´s tragic approach, nor Offenbach´s sumptuous score.
Marjana Lipovsek, Kurt Rydl and Robert Tear had smaller parts in this much-too stellar cast not to warrant a DVD release....
As this is not commercially released, this obviously is no competition to the Carsen Paris DVD.
The bottom line (scale of 1-5, 3=average):
Neil Schicoff: 5
Angelika Kirchschlager: 5
Ruggero Raimondi: 5
L´ubica Vargicová: 3
Krassimira Stoyanova: 4
Waltraud Meier: 5
David McVicar: 5
Kent Nagano: 3-4
Overall impression: 4-5