Les Contes d’Hoffmann at MET: HD Review – The Love Life of a Poet

No matter where you live in the U.S. or in over 60 countries around the world, odds are that ten times per year, you are only a few miles from Lincoln Center. That’s when the world gets to experience one of the finest and most lavish opera companies in the world, as the Metropolitan Opera, performs Live in HD at a theater near you.

 

Today’s opera was Les Contes d’Hoffmann (The Tales of Hoffmann) by Jacques Offenbach. Not only do you get to see a spectacular performance of this opera (something Offenbach never experienced, since he died before it was ever performed), but you get to see behind the scenes and hear interviews with the stars of the show (something that New Yorkers at the real Lincoln Center don’t get to experience). (For that matter, tickets are a LOT cheaper than those at Lincoln Center where the best seats go for $445, and you don’t have to figure out the NY Subway System to get to your local theater, either.)

Erin Morley as Olympia

Sung in French, with English subtitles, the opera tells the story of Hoffmann, a poet by trade, who is not very lucky at love. We watch as he woos and subsequently loses four women he falls madly in love with. Hoffmann seems to be in love with the idea of loving more than he is with any particular woman.

 

The first tale tells of his love for Olympia, a mechanical doll. Thanks to the help of some magic, rose-colored glasses, he doesn’t notice that she is not human and needs an occasional crank to get her going again. We are reminded that all lovers see the world and their love through rose-colored glasses, so this may not be so strange after all. But, in the end, the doll spins out of control in a wild dance, and falls to pieces. (The concept of falling in love with a piece of technology, only to have it fall apart in the end may have a modern day analog, which we will leave as an exercise for the reader.)

Olympia's spring winds down

 

The role of Olympia was played by Erin Morley, in her debut performance of this role at the Met. She was amazing. Her acting and coloratura singing were perfect, and included a few high A-flats, a note usually reserved for piccolos or dog whistles.

Erin Morley as Olympia and Vittorio Grigolo in the title role

 

The second tale tells of his love for Antonia, a wonderful singer, but one who unfortunately inherited a weak heart from her mother, and was ordered by her father not to sing, in order to save her life. Tricked by the evil Dr. Miracle, played by Thomas Hampson, who conjures up the soul of Antonia’s mother, they convince her to sing. This being opera, of course, she proceeds to sing herself to death, quite literally.

Vittorio Grigolo as Hoffmann and Hibla Gerzmava as Antonia

The third tale takes place in Venice and deals with his love for Giulietta. This is the act that contains the famous Barcarolle theme that many will recognize. Despite Hoffmann’s infatuation with Giulietta, she is currently in love with Schlemil. Schlemil challenges Hoffmann to a duel, and Hoffmann kills Schlemil. But Giulietta hops on a gondola with the dwarf Pitichinaccio, and once again Hoffmann is left forlorn and alone.

Vittorio Grigolo as Hoffmann and Christine Rice as Giulietta

Hoffmann finishes recounting his tales and action returns to the tavern where Hoffmann is drinking and waiting for the love of his life, Stella, who is currently performing in a Mozart opera. Stella returns, finds Hoffmann drunk, and departs with someone else. Hoffmann has lost his fourth lover, but perhaps has gained in life experiences, a requirement for poets.

Hoffmann tells his tales at the tavern

The role of Hoffman was played by the Italian tenor, Vittorio Grigolo. This is a very demanding role, and he played it magnificently. Grigolo dedicated the performance to Oscar de la Renta, a good friend of his, who passed away last October.

A cast sheet and synopsis can be found here.

Encore presentations of the broadcast in selected theaters are as follows:

  • In the U.S.:
    • Wednesday, February 4, 2015 at 6:30 PM local time
    • In Canada:
      • Saturday, March 28, 2015 at Noon local time
      • Monday, March 30, 2015 at 6:30 PM local time

For more information, visit the Les Contes d'Hoffman website.

 

If you missed these performances, there are still three more dates for The Met: Live in HD left this season:

February 14, 2015

Tchaikovsky’s Iolanta
Bartok’s Bluebeard’s Castle

March 14, 2015

Rossini’s La Donna del Lago

April 25, 2015

Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana
Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci


More information on these at the Met Opera Website

Photos:

Photos by Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera

(All photos used by permission.)

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