Notes and Editorial Reviews
I strongly suspect that, for repeated listening, this version is the one to which I shall in future turn.
This new Hoffmann offers a starry international cast against the background of a French chorus and orchestra. It presents Placido Domingo for the second time as Hoffmann with, as before, a single soprano for his various lovers. Then it was Joan Sutherland (on Decca with Richard Bonynge) where now it is Edita Gruberova. The latter displays her qualities well in the contrasted requirements of the coloratura Olympia, the frail lyricism of Antonia and the knowing confidence of Giulietta. Her coloratura is accurate and flexible, though she never really matches the ease, sparkle and sheer brilliance of Sutherland. Nor is
the comparison between Domingo's contribution to the two versions altogether in favour of this new version. His technique is obviously more highly developed now and such passages as his offer to tell the story of his loves or his contribution to the love duet with Giulietta are done with much finer dramatic effect. Yet I cannot help finding the voice a shade tired and worn at the upper extreme compared with the ringing young tones to be heard in the 1972 Bonynge version.
Gabriel Bacquier, now a veteran played all four villain roles for Bonynge, but is here restricted to Coppelius. By way of compensation though, he is allowed not only his traditional ''J'ai des yeux'' (which Offenbach composed for Dapertutto) but also, curiously but effectively, the alternative ''Trio des yeux'' that was resurrected by Oeser. James Morris adds to his growing reputation with his splendidly mesmeric Miracle but the case for separate singers of the villain roles is scarcely helped by Justino Diaz as Dapertutto. The reason often given for using different singers is that ''Scintille, diamant'' is written for a higher baritone than elsewhere, but Diaz's final top note is crude and unconvincing. I very much like Claudia Eder as Nicklausse, though. Her voice is full of youthful confidence and flexibility, and her singing of her alternative Act 2 song ''Voyez-la sous son eventail'' is a real delight. Michel Senechal performs Frantz's couplets with aplomb.
The orchestral and choral sound is clear and well balanced. Ozawa launches into each act at a speed that suggests he is attempting some sort of speed record, but generally his interpretation is sympathetic and often genuinely exciting. Certainly it is preferable to the laid-back, plodding direction of Sylvain Cambreling in the recent EMI version. That the latter version lasts almost half as long again as Ozawa's is largely due to its use of the extended Oeser edition. By comparison Ozawa adopts a policy that I think will increasingly be used from now on, in making his own selection from the wider range of material now available. I have mentioned the changes in Act 2 wbich for the most part follows Oeser. So does the Choudens text in favour of the appearance of Stella, the ''Kleinzach'' reprise, and the final ''On est grand par l'amour''. By contrast the other acts are essentially traditional Choudens—right down to the totally unauthentic twentieth-century additions of ''Scintille, diamant'', Hoffmann's discovery of the loss of his shadow, and the septet. The acts are in the correct order here, with Antonia before Giulietta, and I frankly don't want to hear it any other way. Altogether I think the compromise edition works more effectively than either Bonynge's, with its uncomfortable use of dialogue, or Cambreling's.
None of this helps with a final recommendation. Indeed, as I commented in reviewing the reissued Cluytens (EMI) in December, no clear recommendation is really possible. Bonynge surely remains the best sung, but his use of dialogue is a decided deterrent. I strongly suspect that, for repeated listening, this new version is the one to which I shall in future turn.
-- Andrew Lamb, Gramophone [3/1990]
Works on This Recording
Les contes d'Hoffmann by Jacques Offenbach
Placido Domingo (Tenor),
Urban Malmberg (Baritone),
Andreas Schmidt (Baritone),
Harald Stamm (Bass),
Edita Gruberova (Soprano),
Claudia Eder (Mezzo Soprano),
Gabriel Bacquier (Baritone),
Justino Diaz (Bass),
James Morris (Bass Baritone),
Robert Gambill (Tenor),
Paul Crook (Tenor),
Michel Sénéchal (Tenor),
Christa Ludwig (Mezzo Soprano),
Robin Leggate (Tenor),
Gérard Friedmann (Tenor),
Richard Van Allan (Bass),
Kurt Rydl (Bass)
ORTF National Orchestra,
Written: 1881; Paris, France
Date of Recording: 1986
Venue: Radio France Studios, Paris
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