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Walter Felsenstein Edition - Offenbach: Hoffmanns Erzahlungen

Offenbach / Orch Of The Komische Berlin
Release Date: 11/17/2009 
Label:  Arthaus Musik   Catalog #: 101289  
Composer:  Jacques Offenbach
Performer:  Werner EndersRudolf AsmusUwe KreyssigMelitta Muszely,   ... 
Conductor:  Karl-Fritz Voigtmann
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin Comic Opera OrchestraBerlin Comic Opera Chorus
Number of Discs: 2 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Back Order: Usually ships in 2 to 3 weeks.  

Notes and Editorial Reviews

Jacques Offenbach
Hoffmanns Erzählungen
(Les Contes d'Hoffmann, sung in German)

Hoffmann – Hans Gunter Nocker
Stella / Olympia / Antonia / Giulietta – Melitta Muszely
Lindorf / Coppélius / Doktor Mirakel / Kapitän Dapertutto – Rudolf Asmus
Andreas / Cochenille / Franz / Pitichiniaccio – Werner Enders
Spalanzani – Vladimír Bauer
Crespel – Alfred Wroblewski
Schlemihl – Horst-Dieter Kaschel
Niklaus / Muse – Sylvia Kuziemski
Nathanael – Uwe Kreyssig
Lutter – Heinz Kögel

Berlin Komische Oper Chorus and Orchestra
Karl-Fritz Voigtmann, conductor

Walter Felsenstein, stage director
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Reinhart Zimmermann and Rudolf Heinrich, set design
Helga Scherff, costume design

Recorded at DEFA-Studio, Babesberg, 1970

Bonus features: - The Tales of Hoffmann – newsreel footage (1958) - Scene introductions from the script with a picture gallery

Picture format: NTSC 4:3
Sound format: PCM Stereo
Region code: 0 (worldwide)
Menu languages: English, German, French, Spanish
Subtitles: English, German, French, Spanish
Running time: 131 mins (opera) + 32 mins (bonus)
No. of DVDs: 2 (x1 DVD 9 + x1 DVD 5)

R E V I E W:


OFFENBACH Tales of Hoffmann & Karl-Fritz Voigtmann, cond; Hans Nocker ( Hoffmann ); Melitta Muszely ( Stella/Olympia/Antonia/Giulietta ); Rudolf Asmus ( Lindorf/Coppélius/Doktor Mirakel/Dapertutto ); Werner Enders ( Andreas/Cochenille/Franz/Pitichinaccio ); Vladimír Bauer ( Spelanzani ); Alfred Wroblewski ( Crespel ); Horst-Dieter Kaschel ( Schlemihl ); Sylvia Kuziemski ( Niklaus/Muse ); Berlin Comic Op O &Ch ARTHAUS 101 289 (2 DVDs: 131:00)

& 1958 Newsreel footage re the production; scene intros from the script; picture gallery

Recently I’ve come across a few references on the Web to the late, great stage director, Walter Felsenstein as a pioneer of Regietheater. Talk about irony: Felsenstein was the exact opposite of this modern do-as-you-like approach to stage direction. He insisted upon research into all available literary and musical source materials while creating a production. Once he had this all in hand, he made what he considered appropriate adjustments, always in the spirit of the work. There was never any attempt to foist his own message on an audience, but always the artist attempting to realize what the creators of an opera wanted.

This German-language version of Tales of Hoffmann is an excellent example of his technique. Years before musical scholars decided to unearth and examine the problematic, abandoned-in-progress originals of the opera, Felsenstein requested copies of the piano score from the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris, the five-act play that occasioned the opera, and the opening night libretto—also written by one of the team of playwrights. In a couple of prescient moves for 1958, he restored the order of the stories to Olympia-Antonia-Giulietta, and removed all the Guiraud-composed recitatives from his production. Dialogue was used from the play, instead. Then, to give the piece a proper conclusion, as a 19th-century French spectator would have expected, he wrote a fourth verse for the Song of Kleinzack—first heard in act I—to drive off Stella and mock Lindolf into a separate escape. The Muse then speaks again, as in the play, and Hoffmann has his apotheosis. It wasn’t finding a specific person to love that was his true goal, but love itself, worthy of a poet.

But though Felsenstein’s version of Tales of Hoffmann cleverly restores the concept of Scribe’s well-made play to this unfinished opera, the subjects of the three tales are drawn from stories by E. T. A. Hoffmann, a great early-Romantic writer (and competent composer) of Germany; and here, the director resorts to expressionistic acting within the realistic frame of the opening and finale. The three incarnations of the Lover, the Protector, the Enemy, and the Servant are to varying degrees over-the-edge in makeup, costuming, and acting—none more so than Werner Enders as a remarkably spry, hunchbacked Pitichinaccio. There might be an homage here to earlier German directors, such as E. A. Dupont, Robert Wiene, and Joe May, but whether there is or not, the style is certainly appropriate for Hoffmann’s own eerily off-kilter content. Nocker’s subtle Hoffmann and Kuziemski’s Niklaus are themselves normal travelers who heighten the abnormalities of these story landscapes they tread. It is all very well done by an ensemble that worked together for decades.

The camerawork is solid. There are occasional miscalculations, such as the too-sudden zoom into Hoffmann as he drifts from Kleinzach to his contemplation of Stella in act I; but by and large, this is a film infused with haunting imagery to accompany its mercurial score. Consider the duel before the light marble wall alongside the Venetian canals, Hoffmann’s shadow looming large but none for Schlemihl; or Coppélius maliciously throwing down Olympia’s head, which suddenly appears in the next sequence as a smashed receptacle of blue-and-white porcelain—and is that bit of red, a few spots of blood?—only we’re back in the tavern, and the camera pulls back for the innkeeper to complain about Hoffmann breaking his hot punch server. This isn’t just fine opera, it’s fine filmmaking as well.

The singing is strong. Nocker was a very fine heroic tenor whose work in East Germany remained little known elsewhere. Here he reminds me of the legendary César Vezzani as Faust, perfect in the brilliant passages, too unyielding in the more lyrical pages—but it remains a distinguished assumption, regardless. (To really hear Nocker at his best, watch and listen to his introductory aria in Ritter Blaubart , Offenbach’s Bluebeard , on Arthaus Musik 101 293. Inimitable.) Asmus is a baritone rather than a bass, and so lacks the ideal depth for “Scintille, diamant” (sung here as “Mein Diamant”). But he’s got the manner down perfectly, velvet smoothness, with just a touch of ruthless malevolence. Enders’ dry, high tenor lends itself to a highly amusing Franz, while Muszely is excellent throughout. Like Nocker, her fame was largely restricted to East Germany, but she was a fine singing actress with a well-focused, lyrical tone. Voigtmann leads a good performance with relaxed tempos.

Each release of the Walter Felsenstein Edition comes with extras; these are admittedly slim. The most substantial section is newsreel footage covering the director’s original 1958 production, with what amounts to a mini-lecture by Felsenstein on camera about how his sole intention was to get as close as possible to Offenbach’s own musical and dramatic goals, rather than those of well-intended friends. (As the subsequent excerpts from that production show, many of the same performers who made the film 12 years later—Nocker, Muszely, Asmus, Enders—were involved in its stage debut, though interestingly enough, the celebrated singer Hans Reinmar played Crespel.) For the rest, we get selections from a shooting script translated into English, with plenty of Felsenstein’s own hand-drawn scene, character, and costume designs.

The picture format is 4:3, and the sound remastered in PCM stereo. Subtitles are available in English, German, French, and Spanish. There are certainly other great versions of this opera out there, but none in my opinion that have caught so much of his half-mad tale-spinning, or the intimacy of interaction among people who worked together for so long a period of time. Strongly recommended.

FANFARE: Barry Brenesal
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Works on This Recording

Les contes d'Hoffmann by Jacques Offenbach
Performer:  Werner Enders (Tenor), Rudolf Asmus (Bass), Uwe Kreyssig (Baritone),
Melitta Muszely (Soprano), Hans Günther Nöcker (Bass), Alfred Wroblewski (Bass),
Vladimir Bauer (Baritone), Sylvia Kuziemski (Mezzo Soprano), Horst-Dieter Kaschel (Bass),
Heinz Kogel (Baritone)
Conductor:  Karl-Fritz Voigtmann
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin Comic Opera Orchestra,  Berlin Comic Opera Chorus
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1881; Paris, France 
Language: German 

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