The Tales of Hoffmann, Coliseum, London
Thelma, Ashcroft Theatre, Croydon
London Sinfonietta, Queen Elizabeth Hall, London

Crying, talking, sleeping, walking, living dolls

Richard Jones's production of The Tales of Hoffmann for ENO blows the Gothic cobwebs from Offenbach's last, incomplete opera, a drunkard's quest for love in which three female characters are aspects of the elusive perfect woman.

The setting is a slanted room, with bed, piano, basin, mirror and armoire as constants. Giles Cadle's designs change colour, style and proportion with each drop of the curtain, each new object of desire: a spartan set of college rooms (Prologue), a garish mid-century kindergarten (Olympia), an airless fin de siècle consulting room (Antonia), a Postmodern, wipe-clean bordello with a painting of the Rialto (Giulietta).

Small details are enlarged or adapted. Portraits sing, an orchestra of vampires serenades Antonia's delirium, a gorilla lopes around Giulietta's bed. The effect is giddying, hallucinatory, semi-serious, a product of the heavy "Glou, glou, glou" of the wine in Hoffmann's glass. Even the score has changed (ENO uses the Kaye and Keck edition). E T A Hoffmann's Gothic grotesques, archetypes in 1880s Paris, with its theatrical medical lectures and chanteuses épileptiques, are familiar still: quack, pseudo-scientist and pimp, doll, hysteric and whore.

Hoffmann is an opera without a hero. Barry Banks's pickled poet ricochets from fantasy to fantasy, fuelled by booze and self-pity, bright-toned and Italianate. Excepting Christine Rice's ambiguous, watchful Nicklausse, this is not a cast of soft, supple, typically French voices. Clive Bayley's Lindorf/Coppelius/Dr Miracle/ Dapertutto is incisive, every consonant poison-tipped. A mere shadow as Stella, Georgia Jarman's dark, precise soprano extends with ease through Olympia's trance-like coloratura, Antonia's heroic disintegration and Giulietta's hot-breathed barcarolle.

While conductor Antony Walker focuses on Offenbach's silky wash of woodwind and strings, Jones highlights the cruelty in the comedy. Olympia spins as though possessed, her plastic legs swinging in the opposite direction to her neoprene torso. In drag as Cochenille, Simon Butteriss flicks cigarette ash on a tray of ice-creams. Graeme Danby's Crespel has a Freudian beard and, perhaps, a Freudian motive for silencing his consumptive daughter. The soul-stealing in the third act is achieved gruesomely, though this is Offenbach's weakest material and the final chorus curdles in its own sentiment in Tim Hopkins's translation. The stage-craft is tight, the spectacle audacious, but for an ideal Hoffmann, I need to feel the amour in the amour fou.

Composed in 1909, Samuel Coleridge- Taylor's Thelma received its belated world premiere last week, 100 years after the composer's death at the age of 37. Stephen Anthony Brown's meticulous performing edition includes the sensitive orchestration of a movement found only in the piano score. Director Christopher Cowell has tweaked a libretto thought to be Taylor's own, but more drastic intervention is needed. A torrid mix of Nordic folklore and Christian moralising, in which the hero must swim to the bottom of the sea to win his bride, Thelma has music of great suavity, with shades of Dvorák's The Spectre's Bride.

In fake fur and car blankets, Surrey Opera's chorus sang lustily, dutifully waving their arms in the underwater scene. Joanna Weeks (Thelma), Hakan Vramsmo (Carl) and Alberto Sousa (Eric) gave polished performances. Rhonda Browne's Gudrun had pathos, while Oliver Hunt's leering snuff-pusher Djaevelen brought a hint of panto to the denouement. Under Jonathan Butcher, the orchestra achieved a robust glow. Considering 1909 was the year that Strauss's Elektra and Schoenberg's Erwartung were created, Taylor was already outdated. Croydon's most famous musical son is in the spotlight this year. But as to magic Nordic snuff, just say no.

The Austrian composer Olga Neuwirth was the subject of London Sinfonietta's latest In Portrait concert. So profuse are the quotations and allusions in her music that it is almost as if she doesn't want to be heard. Her soundworld is that of a recently emptied room, unlike her British muse, counter-tenor Andrew Watts, whose voice is 100 per cent present, heart on sleeve, tongue in cheek.

Written for Watts, Five Daily Miniatures sets Gertrude Stein's mystic bag-lady aphorisms to dyspeptic glissandi and thundercloud percussion. Neuwirth's concerto, miramondo multiplo, is more slippery, neo-neoclassical in its prim passages for piccolo trumpet (Alistair Mackie), with a blowsy burst of "Send in the Clowns" and a smudge of Handel. In Hommage à Klaus Nomi there is little but quotation and two silent segments of film. Neuwirth's disco numbers sound like deodorised Michael Nyman, her setting of "Ding Dong, the Witch is Dead!" like sherbert. It was fabulous. It was bizarre. But once is enough.

'Tales of Hoffmann' (0871 911 0200) to 10 Mar

Next Week:

Claudia Pritchard discovers whether an all-male Patience is a virtue

Classical Choice

Robin Ticciati conducts Lars Vogt and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra in Beethoven's First Piano Concerto, plus Brahms and Berlioz, at Queen's Hall, Edinburgh (Thu), City Halls, Glasgow (Fri). Still controversial 20 years on, John Adams's opera The Death of Klinghoffer returns to ENO at the London Coliseum (from Sat).

Arts and Entertainment
Judy Murray is joining Strictly Come Dancing 2014

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Word master: Self holds up a copy of his novel ‘Umbrella’
books
Arts and Entertainment
Double bill: Kookie Ryan, Charlotte Gainsbourg and Papou in ‘Nymphomaniac’

TV
Arts and Entertainment
'Big Blues - Shark' by Alexander Mustard won the Coast category

photography
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth McGovern as Cora, Countess of Grantham and Richard E Grant as Simon Bricker

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Art
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard, nicknamed by the press as 'Dirty Diana'

Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
The X Factor 2014 judges: Simon Cowell, Cheryl Cole, Mel B and Louis Walsh

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace was caught by a camera van driving 32mph over the speed limit

TV
Arts and Entertainment
books
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and the Dalek meet
tvReview: Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Arts and Entertainment
Star turns: Montacute House
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Iain reacts to his GBBO disaster

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Outlaw Pete is based on an eight-minute ballad from Springsteen’s 2009 Working on a Dream album

books
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012

film
Arts and Entertainment
Simon Cowell is less than impressed with the Strictly/X Factor scheduling clash

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Gothic revival: artist Dave McKean’s poster for Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination
Exhibition
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard has left the Great British Bake Off 2014

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Lisa Kudrow, Courtney Cox and Jennifer Anniston reunite for a mini Friends sketch on Jimmy Kimmel Live

TV
Arts and Entertainment
TVDessert week was full of the usual dramas as 'bingate' ensued
Arts and Entertainment
Clara and the twelfth Doctor embark on their first adventure together
TVThe regulator received six complaints on Saturday night
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
Arts and Entertainment
David Baddiel concedes his show takes its inspiration from the hit US series 'Modern Family'
comedyNew comedy festival out to show that there’s more to Jewish humour than rabbi jokes
Arts and Entertainment
Puff Daddy: One Direction may actually be able to use the outrage to boost their credibility

music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

    US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
    Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
    Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
    Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

    The big names to look for this fashion week

    This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
    Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
    Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

    Neil Lawson Baker interview

    ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
    The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

    The model for a gadget launch

    Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
    Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
    Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

    Get well soon, Joan Rivers

    She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
    Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

    A fresh take on an old foe

    Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering