Monday, March 22, 2010

Olivier Py recounts masterfully Les Contes d'Hoffmann

This DVD is a recording of the much praised Olivier Py's revisited production of Les Contes d'Hoffmann, shown last year in Geneva. I saw it only now, on DVD, and I can understand the rave reviews the production received from both the critics and the general audience.

It is a very traditional theatrical style but it is very well done. If you already experienced one or more productions directed by Olivier Py, you will recognize his peculiar manner to organize the sets through a system of moving scaffoldings, a structure that allows him to quickly change the scene and avoid any slowdown of the dramatic action. His clever way to fit the scene transformations with the text result in a flawless flow of the show. The traditionalists may be upset by Olivier's aesthetics, but they will be more than happy to see that he never drifts away from Jules Barbier's libretto. Personally, this is the only aspect of this show I don't fully appreciate -- lack of the surprising element.

Olivier Py knows how to direct the actors/singers. His skills are particularly impressive when he changes the sets (his moving scaffoldings are fitted and refitted like the lego bricks): while this is happening he directs the action in such a way that the spectator's attention is focused on the interaction among the main characters, only to realize --1 minute later-- that Hoffmann and Nicklause are in a different situation.

Add to the opulent sets and professionally produced show, a very good cast, you get a DVD that must be considered as the best reference for this opera.  It is particularly suitable for those who would like to discover the Offenbach's most famous opera. Les Contes never drop to the level of  "stale operas" in which the dramatic action is suspended while the singers sing never-ending arias. That's probably a reason why this opera is such a challenge to many operatic directors (I saw 4 productions so far -- none was good). Olivier Py grew up in theater, and the theatrical vein shows.

After seeing this DVD I figured the problem with other Olivier Py's productions: he sometimes tries to give a modern touch to his productions only to screw up the rest of it. That's what happened in Idomeneo (Aix en Provence 2009), in The Rake's Progress (in Paris 2008), and also in Tristan (in Geneva, although this is not a good example; I tend to believe that he completely misunderstood Tristan). Here, in this DVD-ized production of Les Contes d'Hoffmann, he didn't go for anything beyond the the traditional stage directing and the result is wonderful: Olivier Py at his best in what he does the best.

What sets this production apart is the emphasis on underlying eroticism of Les Contes, a line that in some weird way gives a poetic support to the whole opera.

All the singers are really good, but if I had to single out one or two, that would definitely be Hoffmann by Marc Laho. I didn't expect him to be in such a good command and sing every line in a convincing and clean way. His voice sits somewhere between the lyric and heavy tenor -- almost tailored for this role (Could Marc sing Parsifal one day?!)  One shouldn't forget Nicolas Cavallier who sings all the evil roles --Hoffmann's nemesis-- with authority and vocal resilience. On the ladies' side Patricia Petibon steals the show with her two-thumbs-up-worthy Olympia.

On the scale 1-5 :

HOFFMANN - Marc Laho 5
OLYMPIA - Patricia Petibon 5
MUSE-NICKLAUSSE - Stella Doufexis 4-5
ANTONIA - Rachel Harnisch 4-5
GIULIETTA - Maria Riccarda Wesseling 4-5

Olivier Py's production  5

Patrick Davin 5

   Overall impression:  5  

A Trailer by BelAirClassiques

and 2 YT-videos posted by italianoperafan & abvlad

1 comment:

  1. Yes, the singing is excellent, but this production's sexualizing of everything does NOT "in some weird way gives a poetic support to the whole opera". Au contraire, it sets up a vulgar, parallel universe that dispenses cheap thrills to an audience more than eager to receive them, while running away from Hoffman's sincere and idealistic searchings as these are expressed in the music.

    Yes, the revolving girders and metal cutaways (+ bright, non-frosted lights) rivet our attention, but the staging runs counter to what the music is doing its doomed best to express. My extended discussion is to be found on Amazon USA (1-star review).