Opera Warhorses

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Review: Vittorio Grigolo’s Star Shines Bright in L. A. Opera’s Stellar “Tales of Hoffmann” – March 25, 2017

March 27th, 2017

Los Angeles Opera audiences witnessed an extraordinary performance of Offenbach’s “Tales of Hoffmann”, in which Italian tenor Vittorio Grigolo was the most lustrous of several on-stage stars, while an all-star Hoffmann of the preceding generation, Plácido Domingo, presided as conductor.

[Below: the poet Hoffmann (Vittorio Grigolo, left) is revived by his muse (Kate Lindsey, right); edited image, based on a Ken Howard photograph, courtesy of the Los Angeles Opera.]

The production includes most of Offenbach’s “lost” music for the opera that has been discovered in the past half-century and incorporated into alternative performing editions of the work, affecting the entire work, but especially expanding the opera’s prologue.

Vittorio Grigolo’s Hoffmann

For his Hoffmann, Vittorio Grigolo not only brought his richly expressive tenor voice with its weighty baritonal timbre, but an astonishing athleticism that included duck-walking while singing the entire first verse of the lengthy Kleinzach aria in both the opera’s Prologue and Epilogue.

[Below: Vittorio Grigolo as Hoffmann in the opera’s prologue; edited image, based on a Ken Howard photograph, courtesy of the Los Angeles Opera.]

In demand throughout the world, Grigolo returns to Los Angeles after a five year absence since his impressive L. A. Opera debut [see my review at Vittorio Grigolo, Nino Machaidze Sublime in Ian Judge’s Romantic, Erotic “Romeo et Juliette” – Los Angeles Opera, November 9, 2011.]

Kate Lindsey’s Muse and Nicklausse

No other part in the opera has been so fundamentally changed as the role of the Muse/Nicklausse, who in the performances incorporating the “lost” material, has a substantive presence in every scene.

(Although in some performances a single artist sings the roles of Olympia, Giulietta, Antonia and Stella, the roles are often sung by different artists, as they were by three different artists in this performance. In the latter circumstance, the mezzo-soprano singing the Muse and Nicklausse – that Offenbach intended to be different manifestations of the same person and is always sung by the same artist – has the longest role in the opera written for the female voice.)

[Below: The poet Hoffmann’s Muse (Kate Lindsey) emerges from a wine cask in the opera’s prologue; edited image, based on a Ken Howard photograph, courtesy of the Los Angeles Opera.]

The dual roles of the Muse and Nicklausse have become signature roles for Virginia mezzo-soprano Kate Lindsey. (I have previously reported on her triumphant appearance in Santa Fe [Groves, Wall, Lindsey Excel in Christopher Alden’s Harrowing, Hallucinatory “Hoffmann” – Santa Fe Opera, July 17, 2010]).

Lindsey provided a masterful portrayal of this role who is central to the drama.

[Below: Nicklausse (Kate Lindsey, left) entertains his sidekick Hoffmann (Vittorio Grigolo, right) with his guitar-playing; edited image, based on a Ken Howard photograph, courtesy of the Los Angeles Opera.]

Diana Damrau’s Antonia and Stella

German soprano Diana Damrau’s performance as Antonia was beautifully conceived and vocally expressive. Her affecting death, following the brilliantly performed trio (sung with California contralto Sharmay Musacchio as Antonia and bass-baritone Wayne Tigges as Dr Miracle), ended with a trill as her dying breath.

[Below: Stella (Diana Damrau, right) reconsiders her evening’s plans as Andres (Christophe Mortagne , left) looks on; edited image, based on a Ken Howard photograph, courtesy of the Los Angeles Opera.]

In the epilogue, Damrau appeared in a memorable costume as Stella, the object of Hoffmann’s unrequited desire.

So Young Park’s Olympia

South Korean coloratura soprano So Young Park won audience favor with a delightful performance of Olympia, the mechanical doll, pursued by a deluded Hoffmann. Her chanson with its coloratura fireworks twice interrupted by the need of her creator to rewind her was delivered with precision (both vocally and physically), resulting in a sustained ovation at aria’s end.

[Below: The rose-colored glasses that Hoffmann (Vittorio Grigolo, right) wears obscures the fact that Olympia (So Young Park, center) with whom he has fallen in love, is an automaton; edited image, based on a Ken Howard photograph, courtesy of the Los Angeles Opera.]

I had previously praised Park’s Queen of the Night [Review: Sean Panikkar, So Young Park Brilliant in Madeline Sayet’s “Magic Flute” – Glimmerglass Festival, July 20, 2015]. An alumna of the Los Angeles Opera’s Domingo-Colburn-Stein Young Artists program, Park has emerged as a coloratura artist of the first rank.

Kate Aldrich’s Giulietta

Maine mezzo-soprano Kate Aldrich, was  reunited with Grigolo and Maestro Domingo, with whom she previously performed at the Washington National Opera [See The Donizetti Revival, Second Stage: Radvanovsky, Grigolo in Pascoe’s WNO “Lucrezia Borgia” – November 17, 2008.]

[Below: the courtesan Giulietta (Kate Aldrich, right) has become the new object of desire of the poet Hoffmann (Vittorio Grigolo, left); editd image, based on a Ken Howard photograph, courtesy of the Los Angeles Opera.]

Although I found the direction of Giulietta to be curious (the courtesan’s campiness seeming to be at cross-purposes with her intended seductiveness) Aldrich was vocally on her game, her duet with Grigolo’s Hoffmann especially noteworthy.

The Four Villains, Sung by Wayne Tigges, Acted by Nicolas Testé

Prior to the opening scene, Maestro Domingo stepped through the stage curtains to announce that French bass-baritone Nicolas Testé was vocally indisposed but would act and mime the roles of the “Four Villains” while Iowa bass-baritone Wayne Tigges sang all four roles from the orchestra pit.

[Below: Bass-baritone Wayne Tigges, who sang the roles of the Four Villains; edited image, based on a publicity photograph from waynetigges.com.]

Tigges, who includes these roles in his performance repertory and is currently preparing them for performances next month with the Hawaii Opera Theater, was vocally effective, evoking the evil that surrounds these sinister characters.

[Below: Dapertutto (Nicola Testé) admires a precious diamond; edited image, based on a Ken Howard photograph, courtesy of the Los Angeles Opera.]

Testé’s acting performance sustained the illusion of malevolence throughout the quite different characters – the mad Coppelius, the menacing Dr Miracle, the dour Dapertutto and the practical Lindorf. The latter knew that by merely waiting for Hoffmann to drink himself into a stupor, that Lindorf would end up replacing Hoffmann as Stella’s consort for the evening.

Cristophe Moragne’s “Four Servants”, Rodell Rosel’s Spalanzani, Nicholas Brownlee’s Crespel and Other Cast Members

Just as the four “villains” are often played by the same artist, there are four “servant” roles, sometimes referred to as the “grotesques”, that one artist traditionally plays.

If the roles of Andres (prologue) and Pitichinaccio (Giuletta scene) are relatively insignificant, the roles of the automaton Cochenille (Olympia scene) and Frantz (Antonia scene) are meaty comedic assignments, with Frantz having a significant comic aria.

[Below: Christophe Moragne as Cochenille; edited image, based on a Ken Howard photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]

Parisian character tenor Cristophe Moragne was memorable as Cochenille, the mechanical toy companion to So Young Park’s Olympia, and as the deaf servant Frantz, whose aria Jour et nuit je me mets en quartre he performed with distinction.

[Below: the deaf Frantz (Christophe Moragne, right) misunderstands Hoffmann (Vittorio Grigolo, right); edited image, based on a Ken Howard photograph, courtesy of the Los Angeles Opera. ]

Special note should be taken of the performance of character tenor Rodell Rosel as Spalanzani, the creator of the mechanical toys Olympia and Cochenille.

I have long admired Rosel’s work [see, for example, Review: Jay Hunter Morris, Christine Goerke Lead a Vocally Strong “Siegfried” Cast – Houston Grand Opera, April 20, 2016.] He was a vigorous Spalanzani, excitedly hopping around, leaving a strong impression of a toymaker living in a world of fantasy.

The role of Crespel, Antonia’s father, needs a strong bass-baritone presence, and is often assigned to an “up and coming” artist. That is the case in the fine performance of Alabama’s Nicholas Brownlee.

Other members of a carefully chosen cast included Texas baritone Daniel Armstrong as Schlémil (Giuletta scene), and, from the prologue, New York baritone Theo Hoffman as Hermann, Ohio tenor Brian Michael Moore as Nathanael and South Korean baritone Kihun Yoon as Luther.

Plácido Domingo and the Musical Performance

Los Angeles Opera’s General Director Plácido Domingo, conducted the Los Angeles Opera Orchestra in a a passionate reading of the opera.

The performing edition he chose retains the all of the lush music of the operatic performing edition that Domingo personally performed in the earlier part of his distinguished operatic career. (I saw him perform the role at the San Francisco Opera in 1987.)

The revised edition that Maestro Domingo chose for the performance contains a wealth of Offenbach’s music unknown to the late 19th through mid-20th century. Under his baton, the orchestra performed the entirety of Offenbach’s music – “old” and “new” –  with affection.

[Below: the “Venice scene” from Marta Domingo’s production of Offenbach’s “Tales of Hoffmann”, with a view of the Los Angeles Opera Orchestra; edited image of a production photograph, courtesy of the Los Angeles Opera.]

Marta Domingo’s Production and Staging

Marta Domingo has created four of Los Angeles Opera’s cherished productions, including her famous 1920s Hollywood version of Verdi’s “La Traviata” [See Review: Nino Machaidze and the Domingos (Placido and Marta) Create a Memorable “La Traviata” – Los Angeles Opera, September 13, 2014 and an alternative version of Puccini’s “La Rondine” [Marta Domingo’s Reconceptualization of “Rondine” Returns to L. A. – June 7, 2008].

Always an imaginative production designer, Marta Domingo created attractive settings for her 2002 “Hoffmann” production, in its first Los Angeles Opera revival, which she stages with swift-moving action.

A Personal Observations

Although I’ve reviewed hundreds of opera performances in the past decade, and have attended many more live opera performances over my lifetime, this is only the second time I’ve ever observed a performance in which a principal singer’s indisposition has been addressed by having that artist act the role onstage while another artist sings from the pit. [For the other instance, see: A “Faust” Surprise in Houston – January 23, 2007.]

(It is a far more satisfactory solution to the solution of an indisposed artist, than trying to negotiate a performance without a cover in which a major artist suddenly is unable to perform. [See No Norina: A “Don Pasquale” Showstopper in Zurich – September 23, 2007.])

At the least in most of the major American opera houses, there is a “cover”, either a major artist who knows the role and the production who has been engaged to be in the vicinity, lest she or he be needed to step in at the last moment.

Often the cover is a member of the company’s Young Artist’s program, who in some cases may have been selected for the program with the idea that the young artist would be groomed as the cover for a principal role in the company’s upcoming repertory.

This was the opening performance of a prestigious “Tales of Hoffmann” production, important to the artistic team of Placido Domingo, the conductor, and Marta Domingo, the production designer and stage director.

Knowing that most operatic artists who might be available to do so would respond to any request from Maestro Domingo to participate at the last minute in one of his projects, I am confident that the solution that he chose was calculated to give the Los Angeles Opera audiences the best performance possible under the circumstances.

The result was a theatrically cohesive, beautifully sung performance, with which the “dual” performance of the four villain roles was hardly even a distraction.

Recommendation

“Hoffmann” is one of the “hot tickets” in this world center of the entertainment industry.

I recommend the opera, cast and production enthusiastically, both for the veteran opera goer and the novice to opera (and to anyone able to secure a ticket to it.)

 

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