Film & TV

Film/Opera Review: The Tales of Hoffman

As they wait in the wings of an opera house, the poet Hoffmann begins to tell his friend, Nicklausse, about his past lost loves.

“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.” – one of Shakespeare’s best known quotes. However, it could equally also apply to Robert Carsen’s production of The Tales of Hoffmann.

One of the main stays of the French opera repertoire, this production was a refreshing new approach that immersed us in the theatre, backstage, in the orchestra pit and on stage.

In the wings of a theatre, the poet Hoffmann waits for an opera singer, Stella, who performs at the opera house. She has sent him a letter that he must wait for her until she finishes her  performance. Hoffmann is tired of waiting for her, and begins to tell his friend, Nicklausse, about his past lost loves.

His first love is a puppet, Olympia, the daughter creation of a mad Coppelius. He sells Hoffmann a pair of magic glasses. As Hoffmann puts on the glasses, he perceives Olympia as human, and falls in love with her. But, Coppelius gets angry with the scientist, so he breaks the doll.

His second lover is a singer, Antonia, who is sickly. Her father thinks that she may die young as her mother did, so he forbids her from singing. Hoffmann falls in love with her but a charlatan, Dr. Miracle, advises Antonia to sing. Antonia continues to sing and dies.

The third lover is a high-class prostitute, Giulietta. Dappertutto, who is a magician, gives her a diamond, and asks her to steal Hoffmann’s shadow. Giulietta flirts with Hoffmann, so he falls in love with her. Giulietta succeeds in getting his shadow and leaves him.

When Hoffmann finishes talking about these stories to his friend, he drinks himself unconscious. The Muse (Hoffmann’s friend Nickausse in another guise) says to Hoffmann, “Come back as a poet. Everyone learns from love, and learns from tears.”

This production was flawless in every way, perfect voices, beautifully designed sets and costumes, and a clever concept perfectly acted!

Some highlights for me were –

The funniest portrayal of Olympia I have ever seen! Nadine Koutcher took the character to new heights. A glorious voice and the best comedy seduction in opera ever!

Ermonela Jaho and Kate Aldrich as Antonia and Giulietta both gave memorable performances, particularly Jaho’s descent from sickness to death.

Ramon Vargas as Hoffmann understood Hoffmann’s dilemma, alcohol ridden, emotionally distraught, and searching relentlessly for true love. Varga handled the lyrical and dramatic vocal demands required for this role effortlessly.

The two standouts for me were Stéphanie d’Oustrac (as the muse and Nickausse) and Roberto Tagliavini (in multiple roles as Hoffmann’s arch enemy). Both these performers were riveting in their roles in vocal execution and characterisation. D’Oustrac’s Act 2 aria was particularly heart-rending.

Add to this an exceptional orchestra led by Philippe Jordan and magnificent sets by Michael Levine (especially the dancing seats in Act 3) and you have the perfect opera.

If you haven’t see The Tales of Hoffmann before and enjoy your opera with a bit of raunchy fun then this is the film version for you!

Reviewed by Barry Hill
Twitter: @kinesguy

Rating out of 10:  10

The Tales of Hoffmann will screen again on 15 March 2017 as part of the Palace Opera & Ballet cinema season, presenting The Royal Opera House, La Scala and Opéra national de Paris – exclusive to the Palace Nova Eastend cinemas.

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