Notes and Editorial Reviews
Les Contes d’Hoffmann
Peter Maag, cond; Mady Mesplé (
); Sándor Kónya (
); Gabriel Bacquier (
); Nöemi Souza (
); Nino Falzetti (
); Radmila Bako?evic
); Heather Harper (
); Teatro Colon O & Ch
OPERA D’ORO 7074, mono (2 CDs: 2:21:03
Text and Translation) Live: Buenos Aires 8/3/1970
We thought we knew ye well. A Prologue, three acts in the order Olympia-Giulietta-Antonia, and an Epilogue. But funny things started happening in the 1970s. Musicologists decided that Offenbach wrote it as an opera-comique, and so all those nasty sung recitatives by Ernest Guiraud had to go. Then they told us that Offenbach wanted the Giulietta act last. And then came Fritz Oeser, Jean-Christophe Keck, and Michael Kaye, each armed with trunkfuls of music that they found in someone’s basement, and they rearranged the score. Dapertutto’s aria “Scintille, diamant” was banished to Siberia on permanent leave, bucketfuls of new music were poured into it, the Prologue and Epilogue became acts I and V, and before you knew it,
resembled a Mr. Potato Head with four eyes, five arms, two mouths, and three legs. It didn’t look right or sound right, but hey, we used all the parts!
This reissue returns us to those glorious days of yesteryear when both performers and audiences actually enjoyed
It’s a “deluxe” release of a recording issued in 2002 sans libretto and liner notes on Opera d’Oro 1376. There are but three detriments I can hear: It’s in mono, and somewhat dull in orchestral texture (which you can remedy with an inexpensive audio editor by boosting treble by about 2.3 dB and bass by 1.5 dB); Peter Maag’s conducting, generally excellent, tends to slowness in lyric scenes (the Barcarolle, “Elle a fui”); and Nöemi Souza, the Niklausse, sounds covered, grey of tone, and slightly infirm. Either she wasn’t a very good mezzo or she had a cold that day. The latter is always a possibility; such are the vagaries of a live setting. Audience noise is at a minimum, but stage noise is high. Unfortunately, this is always a problem in live
recordings, especially in the Prologue and first two acts.
What I liked most about this performance, however, is that it is
The villains sneer; Hoffman is ecstatic; Antonia is vulnerable and loving, Giulietta hard of heart and contriving; the comic roles are funny. Nowadays, in addition to sticking too much music in, most
performances sound generic. I mean, really … do Plàcido Domingo, Neil Shicoff, or Roberto Alagna sound poetic to you? Do José van Dam or Alan Held sound the least bit sinister? Gabriel Bacquier runs out of breath on his final high note in “Scintille, diamant,” but otherwise he’s in much better voice here than on his two commercial recordings. Sándor Kónya sounds positively radiant as Hoffmann; along with Robert Rounseville and Stuart Burrows, he’s the best I’ve heard on discs. (Kónya sang some of the role in German on a 1958 LP of highlights, since available on Hungaroton HCD-12444.) Mady Mesplé is as sparkling as champagne, Radmila Bako?evic infuses her steely voice with seductive accents, and Heather Harper is an outstanding Antonia. Oddly, there is no cast listing for the first-class bass who sings Shlemil and Crespel, nor can I find his name at the Buenos Aires Opera site. Perhaps he was one of Hoffmann’s imaginary spirits!
The question, then, is not whether you should buy this recording, but whether you should invest the extra few dollars for the libretto and liner notes and make it your preferred or only version of the opera. I say yes. I’ve not heard any other complete
this good, and although it is one Niklausse short of a full deck, Bacquier trumps everyone else in the history of recording as the villains.
FANFARE: Lynn René Bayley
Works on This Recording
Les contes d'Hoffmann by Jacques Offenbach
Gabriel Bacquier (Voice),
Nino Falzetti (Voice),
Heather Harper (Soprano),
Noemi Souza (Mezzo Soprano),
Sándor Kónya (Tenor),
Mady Mesplé (Soprano),
Nino Falzetti (Tenor),
Gabriel Bacquier (Baritone),
Radmila Bakocevic (Soprano)
Buenos Aires Teatro Colón Orchestra,
Buenos Aires Teatro Colón Chorus
Written: 1881; Paris, France
Date of Recording: 08/03/1970
Venue: Buenos Aires
Length: 141 Minutes 3 Secs.
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