SF Opera's Les Contes d'Hoffmann
June 06, 2013
* Notes *
A new production of Les Contes d'Hoffmann (Hye Jung Lee as Olympia and Thomas Glenn as Spalanzani with the San Francisco Opera Chorus in Act II pictured left, photograph by Cory Weaver) opened at San Francisco Opera last night. Maestro Patrick Fournillier lead a lively orchestra. The brass sounded particularly good in the first third of the performance. The violin solo in Act III was beautiful. There were moments when orchestra and singers were not precisely together, but the players never overwhelmed the voices.
This elaborate co-production with Gran Teatre del Liceu and L'Opera Nacional de Lyon is directed by Laurent Pelly, who also designed the costumes. Chantal Thomas' set is sedate in color but moves swiftly, facilitating scene changes. Projections are used sparingly, never detracting from the lighting or the set. The most charming part of the staging is certainly Act II, the Olympia part of the opera. The devices employed to move the life-sized mechanical doll Olympia are effective and hilarious.
The chorus was strong, as usual, and were rarely off from the orchestra. Thomas Glenn makes for a perfect Spalanzani, his voice is pretty and he can act. Steven Cole did well with the four character tenor roles, and was particularly winsome as Cochenille and Frantz.
Each of the three principal women has a distinctive sound. Irene Roberts (Giulietta) seemed cold and haughty, even in her voice. Hye Jung Lee was brilliant as Olympia, her "Les oiseaux dans la charmille" was the most amusing moment in the performance. Her voice is flexible and clear. Natalie Dessay fared less nicely as Antonia. Her volume was fine, but some of her notes seem frayed. On the other hand, could not help but sympathize with her character.
Christian Van Horn was delightfully evil as all four villains. At first, I was thrown off by the texture of Angela Brower's voice, but very much liked how her transformation from The Muse to Nicklausse is achieved. Her "Belle nuit, ô nuit d'amour" with Irene Roberts was absolutely lovely. As Hoffmann, Matthew Polenzani sounded light and lustrous. His voice was easily heard from under the overhang on the orchestra level.
* Tattling *
Since there were very few people in the last row of the orchestra level, there was little bad behavior to note. There did not seem to be any late seating, despite the early start time of 7:30pm.