Saturday, October 07, 2017

Metropolitan Opera – Offenbach’s Les Contes D’Hoffmann. October 4, 2017.

Metropolitan Opera at Lincoln Center.  Orchestra (Seat CC23, $25).

Story.  Hoffmann the poet is in love with Stella.  A letter she wrote to Hoffmann was intercepted by Lindorf.  After arguing with Lindorf in Luther’s Tavern, Hoffmann has a sense of impending disaster and begins to tell the story of his three past loves.  The first love is Olympia, a mechanical doll created by Spalanzani.  With a pair of glasses Hoffmann thinks she is Spalanzani’s daughter, and is enchanted.  His dance with Olympia gets more frenzied until Olympia is torn apart, and Hoffmann is mocked for falling for a machine.  The second love is Antonia who is so weak that she has to stop singing, which she loves.  However, Dr. Miracle conjures up a vision of her mother to convince her to continue singing; she cannot resist and sings until she collapses.  Dr. Miracle coldly pronounces her dea.  The third love is the courtesan Giulietta.  While Hoffmann originally denies any interest in her, he is eventually seduced by Giulietta, who also steals his reflection.  He is eventually abandoned by Giulietta.  After finishing the story, Hoffmann realizes that the three women are different aspects of Stella, and learns that he should find consolation in his creative genius.  Present through the entire opera is his Muse disguised as his friend Nicklausse to help him along the journey.

Artists for Les Contes D’Hoffmann.

Conductor – Johannes Debus.  Vittorio Grigolo, Erin Morley, Anita Hartig, Oksana Volkova, Laurent Naouri, Tara Erraught, Christophe Mortagne, Mark Schowalther, Robert Pomakov, Olesya Petrova, David Crawford.

Anne and I will be away quite a bit starting mid-October, so I had to go to New York to exchange tickets for a couple of shows.  So I decided to get a rush ticket for this show, which was in our original plan.  Anne had teaching duties and couldn’t go.

Row CC is the third row from the back, but the acoustics was very good (I sat in CC15 for Act 1 and CC19 for Acts 2 and 3).  All the singers’ voices came through beautifully.  Other than for some passages in Act 3, Grigolo’s singing seemed effortless – a regular day in the office, so to speak.

I had a general idea what the opera was about, and knew a couple of tunes from it (the doll’s aria and barcarolle).  The other part I knew was the mechanical doll, which needed to be wound up a couple of times during the doll’s aria, and ended her aria with repeated mechanical acknowledgement bows.  The story is simple enough, and the way it was staged tonight - Franz Kafka and the era of the 1920s provide a dramatic reference point, per the Playbill – one could also interpret the three loves as hallucinations, with Hoffmann drifting out of reality after the prolog and returning for the epilog.

What I didn’t quite expect was the seeming lack of energy throughout most of the program.  Yes, I go to operas mostly for the music, and certainly enjoyed what I heard tonight.  However, when the Playbill tries to play up the dramatic aspects (e.g., in its reference to Kafka) it also raises expectations which in my opinion weren’t met.  Of course I cannot tell if the opera is fundamentally flawed as drama, or tonight’s performance was not up to standard.

Curtain Call.  From the left: Giulietta, Antonia, Debus (conductor), Grigolo, Erraught, and Morley.

There were quite a few empty seats in the auditorium.  The two rows behind me had very few people sitting in them.  The lady a few seats over was really into the comedic aspects of the story, laughing out a bit too loud at a few instances.

The New YorkTimes review I found talks about all three operas during this season’s opening week.  While the reviewer had good things to say about the singers, he was worried if the Met has found a way out of its current slump.

I found out taking a picture of the “casting page” means I don’t have to do a lot of typing. So why did I still type the artists’ name, you ask?  I do that so if I do a search on the blog if I want to find out if I have heard a particular artist before.

Because of NJ Transit’s schedule, taking the train would mean getting home after 1 am.  Driving in wasn’t difficult, but traffic around Lincoln Center was surprisingly congested, and I had to circle around a few times before I found parking on Columbus Avenue.

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