Ralph Padgug | California, US | 05/26/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)
"I was taken aback by the previous reviewer's bashing of this VERY beautifully done Tales of Hoffmann, recorded live at the outdoor Macerata Arena in Italy. Comparing it to both the older Covent Garden version with Placido Domingo (well sung, but an uninteresting, outdated production), and the newer one from the Paris Opera with Neil Shicoff (a glitzier performance but much of it bizarre to the point of being unsettling) I rate this one marginally highest of the three.
The singers, orchestra and chorus are, with very few exceptions, extremely satisfying. The most impressive performances are the lovely, intensely moving Antonia [soprano Annalisa Raspagliosi], the commandingly sinister villains of famous Italian basso Ruggero Raimondi, whose voice is in great shape after a long, magnificent career, and the hilarious singing doll Olympia [soprano Desiree Rancatore -- her acting and conception of the role are absolutely riveting, although her upper register shows some signs of faulty vocal production.] Also worth mentioning is Hoffmann's "sidekick" Nicklausse, mezzo Elsa Maurus; she is adorable and I've never heard it sung better.
Tenor Vincent La Scola in the title role is a convincing, sympathetic Hoffmann, solid throughout the opera. Of course he doesn't have the creamy dark timbre of Domingo but his acting is much more natural and his singing/phrasing consistently enjoyable -- at times very beautiful (especially so in the 2nd Act Sextet.) Conversely, he is not as dramatic as Neil Shicoff, but physically and vocally Shicoff just doesn't win me over as Hoffmann. The only principal singer who falls a little short is Sara Allegretta as Giulietta; not bad at all, but not enough of a femme fatale in the role of the soul-stealing courtesan.
There are some other minor flaws in this version; Act 2 (with the afore-mentioned Giulietta) is not as successful as the rest of the opera, and a couple of the smaller roles could have been better done (esp. Antonia's unhappy father, Crespel and his comical servant Frantz who's good for some laughs but lacking vocally. Both of those singers also have bit roles in the other acts which they handle somewhat better.) Worst of all, in Act 1, the dancers' shoes squeak unnervingly loudly in their first number.
That aside, I saved the best for last. Opera can be a hard medium to capture well on video, but whoever filmed this DVD had the knack of always being in exactly the right place at the right time. Nowhere are those long close-ups prevalent in many other opera DVD's, where you end up looking down the singers' throats and watching their uvula quiver. No, the cameras zoom out whenever there's a great panorama, zoom back in for all the good closeups, focus in on all the important action, and even show characters' REACTIONS to what is taking place --- brilliantly done! This is all the more wonderful because the staging and directing are both visually appealing and dramatically fascinating. This is an elegant, clever and powerful rendition of a real crowd-pleaser of an opera. Add that all up and top it with the venue -- a stunning outdoor arena with an immense stage. Really makes you wish you could have been in the audience seeing and hearing this production under the Italian night sky (and incidentally I would love to know where in Italy this was performed; none of the names on the cover or in the liner notes pinpoint the location.)
Out of the 3 most popular versions, this is the Tales of Hoffmann to own -- rent the other two.
Verging on Terrible
Spinto | ct | 08/05/2006
(2 out of 5 stars)
"This production is one of the more conceptless slap-dash, messy shows I have seen since my last community theatre show.
The show has lots of strange imagery, im not sure why, The Villains are certainly vaudville demons of some kind, and the sets are difficult to understand.
Certainly the most important failure here is some of the singing. I couldn't complain enough about Raimondis flat, toneless villains. he cannot phonate on the bottom tones, and his higher notes are screams without any trace of resonance. The large majority of secondary singers have much more resonant voices. His acting is way over the top and he parted ways with the orchestra many times.
vicenzo La Scola was very general as hoffman. He did not inspire any sort of pity. His voice is very large for this part, and he added no touch of gentleness or pain to the tortured poet. He looked fairly bored and lost onstage.
Rancatore as Olympia was excellent as usual.
A special thumbs up goes to Andrea Valis whose Janitors aria was some of the most hillarious schtick Ive seen. (DID YOU HEAR THAT HIGH A?)
--Probably a waste of money,
The Domingo version is a great Classic reading and the Schicoff Terfel version is a great modern reading,
THis is not special, and very dissapointing"
A traditional work with traditional cuts restored
Jay Silman | New York City, New York | 11/15/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This production is one of those which adheres to tradition but conforms to modern scholarship. The restored cuts clarify the action which is enhanced with the translation option. The Prologue is extended to intoduce the main characters of the opera. The Doll Scene follows in the same vein adding music which is cut from standard performances."