Paul Groves (Hoffmann) and Kate Lindsey (Nicklausse) in Tales of Hoffmann, Santa Fe Opera, 2010 (photo by Ken Howard)
Christopher Alden's production begins with poet Hoffmann’s muse of poetry Nicklausse (mezzo-soprano Kate Lindsey) tucked away lying on an upright piano in a wood-paneled bar with long wooden tables and chairs, while Hoffmann (tenor Paul Groves) is face down at a table, drunk, with pages of his poetry at hand. A Romantic landscape painting reminiscent of Caspar David Friedrich fills the entire back wall (sets by Allen Moyer), and the offstage chorus supplies several "pizzicati" to the orchestral texture. The singing Muse playfully moseys onto Hoffmann’s table, sprawling on her back in front of him and eventually embracing him, with the consequence of getting him writing again. Lindsey was effective in blending in to a scene and executing tuneful, tricky arias with laser-like precision. At the opera’s end, her final words to Hoffmann are: "Let your genius be reborn from the ashes of your heart… the Muse will soothe your sorrows."
Offenbach, Des Contes d'Hoffmann, N. Dessay, Opéra de Lyon, K. Nagano
(new edition by Michael Kaye)
Soprano Erin Wall, last heard as Daphne in 2007, as Olympia, Antonia, Giulietta, and Stella hooks Hoffmann again and again with her “rapturous” singing, consistently exuding a cool confidence. The vocal demands of the roles were immense and included having to intentionally flub and miss notes as the automaton Olympia, who was only visible as a real woman through special glasses. The sword fight was in slow motion on top of a table with lighting that put its shadow on the wall. Other particularly effective blocking included having most of the singers onstage through the entire performance, with the principals placed on top of a table to add importance or separation.
Heidi Waleson, Santa Fe's Busy 'Tales,' Bloody 'Butterfly,' Tinny 'Flute' (Wall Street Journal, August 14)
Sarah Bryan Miller, A long and often-dreary "Tales of Hoffmann" (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 8)
Scott Cantrell, Santa Fe production of Offenbach's unfinished 'Tales of Hoffmann' is cluttered, confusing (Dallas Morning News, August 5)
Brian Holt, All the World's a Stage (Out West Arts, July 31)
James M. Keller, Paul Groves shines in dizzying take on 'Tales' (Santa Fe New Mexican, July 18)
Lord elicited seamless sweep from the orchestra, exploiting many opportunities for flexible tempo choices. It was worth waiting for the famed Barcarolle in the final act, though Lord should have made the decision to abandon the excruciating keyboard organ sound for a real fake organ (electronic organ) or nothing at all leading into the opera’s close. At the end, all were standing and singing brilliantly about how “one becomes great through love and greater still through tears” except for a dejected Hoffman, in a consoling embrace from the Muse. The orchestra then cut out partway into the last chord, giving the singers the gripping last word.
This production of The Tales of Hoffmann continues at Santa Fe Opera through August 28.