Monday, February 9, 2015


Vittorio Grigolo in the title role and Christine Rice as Giuletta in Offenbach's "Les Contes d’Hoffmann."
Photo: Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera
Reviewed by James Karas

Jacques Offenbach’s Les Contes d’Hoffmann, with its sprawling libretto, numerous characters, several settings and some complex psychological curves, is not an easy opera to produce successfully. Offenbach died during rehearsals of the first production and people have been tampering with the work ever since.

Bartlett Sher put his own imprimatur on the opera in his 2009 production for the Metropolitan Opera which has been remounted in New York and shown Live in HD around the world.

Sher gives us a dark, forbidding, almost macabre reading of the opera. Much of the time we see the faces of people dressed in back with white shirts on a dark background. I felt as if I were seeing ghosts. What the audience in Lincoln Centre saw may have been very different because the background set may have been more visible but it is impossible to say.

At the beginning of the performance we see the Muse dressed in a beautiful dress. Mezzo-soprano Kate Lindsay makes a stunning Muse with her dramatic face and splendid voice. She soon puts on a black suit and becomes Hoffmann’s friend Nicklausse.  

The tortured and complex poet Hoffmann is played by tenor Vittorio Grigolo. Grigolo has youthful good looks that combine innocence and passion. Hoffmann is a man in pursuit of many things that are symbolized by love for a woman or several women. Hoffmann falls in love with the mechanical doll Olympia, the doomed singer Antonia who will drop dead if she sings and the courtesan Giulietta who does what courtesans do – dumps him for another man. Grigolo handles the role superbly both as an actor as the ever-searching and failing man and as a virtuoso singer who must display passion, lyricism and some sarcasm.    

 Thomas Hampson as Dapertutto and Christine Rice as Giuletta in Offenbach's "Les Contes d’Hoffmann."
Photo: Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera

Bass-baritone Thomas Hampson plays the four villains who haunt Hoffmann’s every affair until he (Hoffmann) destroys himself. Hampson has an imposing physique and an equally imposing and impressive voice. He gives the villains a haunting presence and us a superb performance.

The doll Olympia is sung and performed by Erin Morley. Morley has to adopt the awkward mechanical steps of a doll and sing; she derives full marks for evocative singing and acting.

Soprano Hibla Gerzmava sang the roles of Antonia and Stella, the latter being the woman he is in love with at the beginning of the opera and the one who leaves him dead drunk at the end. Gerzmava has a big and commanding voice and her portrayal of the two singers was convincing.

Christine Rice sang the beautiful but unfaithful Giulietta with beauty and fidelity.

Yves Abel conducted the Met Opera Orchestra.

Les Contes d’Hoffmann by Jacques Offenbach was shown Live in HD from the Metropolitan Opera on January 31, 2015 at the Cineplex Odeon Eglinton Town Centre Cinema, 22 Lebovic Avenue, Toronto, Ontario and other theatres. Encores will be shown on March 28 and 30, 2015. For more information call (416)-752-4494 or visit

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