The Tales of Hoffmann, English National Opera
Monday 13 February 2012
Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann is a long
and convoluted work which usually comes over as an implausible amalgam of Faust
Richard Jones’s sparkling new production makes of it something witty, macabre, and psychologically so suggestive that it has at times the dark resonance of Bartok’s Bluebeard’s Castle. This is achieved thanks to a combination of elements which is currently all too rare: brilliant stagecraft, a conductor who knows how to extract high-definition performances, and a cast of versatile singer-actors led by an incomparable trio in the central roles.
Tenor Barry Banks is the poet whose amorous dreams we are invited to share, mezzo Christine Rice is his confidant Nicklausse (here conceived as the double of his schoolboy self), while the American soprano Georgia Jarman incarnates the singer, the doll, and the prostitute who are the elusive creatures of the poet’s fevered imagination; Jones and his designer Giles Cadle have hit on a framing concept which suggests that all three are literally pipe-dreams inspired by the poet’s hopeless love for his diva. Indeed, the entire show is a succession of conjuring tricks which pass so smoothly and swiftly that at times you hardly register them, the first being when the poet’s reverie is broken by a tavern-full of floppy-haired young carousers suddenly emerging from the woodwork. Each scene has the hyper-reality of a manga comic; the cleverly-choreographed movement has a stylised exaggeration which chimes perfectly with the tongue-in-cheek gaiety of Offenbach’s bewitching music.
And as Jarman delivers the aria which everyone knows – where Spalanzani’s doll bursts into coloratura song – her preternaturally agile voice and limbs seem to morph in a way which is at once deliciously comic and technically astonishing; you could sense the first-night audience holding its breath in wonder. To see her transformation into the dying Antonia in the next act, for which she colours her timbre in a quintessentially Parisian manner, and then into the louche Giulietta, is to realise what a chameleon talent she has. Banks’s sweetly penetrating sound expresses both comedy and pathos, while Christine Rice’s charismatic Muse effortlessly commands the stage. Meanwhile bass Clive Bailey works his own spell first as Coppelius, then as the quack doctor Miracle, then as a Boris Karloff-like Dapertutto; Simon Butteriss’s incarnations are just as Protean. An unforgettable evening.
musicReview: Culture Club performs live for first time in 12 years
Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search
ReviewThese heroes in a half shell should have been left in hibernation
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Salisbury ranked seventh-best city in the world to visit in Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015
- 2 Disney announces new female-led film Moana
- 3 Banksy has not been arrested: Internet duped by fake report claiming artist's identity revealed
- 4 Kentucky gang rape: 15-year-old boy left in critical condition after sexual attack by group at party
- 5 Russell Brand threatened with arrest after filming outside Fox News headquarters
Breaking Bad season 6 is still not happening
Disney announces new female-led film Moana
Eight seconds of white noise is top of the Canadian iTunes chart because people love Taylor Swift that much
Fury, film review: Brad Pitt is intriguing as unsympathetic war hero
American Horror Story season 4, Fox - TV review: Sensitive, silly and sensational
Cameron is warned 'no possibility' of UK reducing immigration and that bid to bring in quota on migrant workers would be illegal
Residents should throw a street party and mix with immigrant neighbours, councils told
Russell Brand threatened with arrest after filming outside Fox News headquarters
London bus driver 'kicks gay couple off for kissing'
Jose Manuel Barroso warns David Cameron against making 'historic mistake' over immigration reforms
Worst Airports of 2014: Poll names Islamabad airport in Pakistan worst in the world