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DVD: Des Contes d'Hoffman

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Jacques Offenbach, Des Contes d'Hoffman, Daniel Galvez-Vallejo, Natalie Dessay, Gabriel Bacquier, Jose Van Dam, Kent Nagano, Opéra de Lyon (1999)
When the Opéra de Lyon inaugurated its new theater, designed by French starchitect Jean Nouvel, it did so with a daring production of Les Contes d'Hoffman, by Jacques Offenbach. This was the first performance of Michael Kaye's revised edition of the score, including only the parts actually completed by Offenbach before his death. The production is one of the strangest ever conceived, and the fragmented nature of the music, because of the edition, seems to fit that. Still, I can't say that it is the version of the opera that I would want to own.

There is plenty of good singing on this recording, from Jose Van Dam, Barbara Hendricks, and Gabriel Bacquier especially. The lesser roles are less impressively performed. However, it contains one of the best recordings I have ever heard of Olympia's aria ("Les oiseaux dans la charmille"), with the absolutely pure and powerful tone and pyrotechnical virtuosity of the (at the time) still fairly new Lyonnaise soprano Natalie Dessay. It's a truly marvelous thing to hear, not least of all the high A-flat on which she ends the piece: yes, that's A-flat 3, a minor third above the highest note sung by the Queen of the Night. As I was poking around for examples of the extremes of singing because of this performance (which I listened to several times: it's a charming piece and spectacularly sung on this DVD), I found this page, from Dutch Divas, which has sound clips of the freakiest sounds ever recorded, both extremely high and outrageously low. Check it out. It will make your jaw drop.

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