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Offenbach: Les Contes D’hoffmann / Monteux, Stevens, Tucker, Peters

Release Date: 11/01/2011 
Label:  Sony   Catalog #: 7961902  
Composer:  Jacques Offenbach
Performer:  Roberta PetersRisë StevensLucine AmaraRichard Tucker,   ... 
Conductor:  Pierre Monteux
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Metropolitan Opera Chorus
Number of Discs: 2 
Recorded in: Mono 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

OFFENBACH Tales of Hoffmann Pierre Monteux, cond; Richard Tucker ( Hoffmann ); Martial Singher ( Lindorf, Coppélius, Dapertutto, Dr. Miracle ); Roberta Peters ( Olympia ); Risë Stevens ( Giulietta ); Lucine Amara ( Antonia ); Mildred Miller ( Nicklausse Read more class="ARIAL12">); Alessio de Paolis ( Andrès, Cochenille, Pitichinaccio, Frantz ); Metropolitan Op O & Ch SONY 96190, mono (2 CDs: 140:30) Live: New York 12/8/55

For various reasons, including the fact that he died before it was finished and often revised his stage works after their premieres, we don’t know what would have been the final, definitive form of Jacques Offenbach’s Tales of Hoffmann . Fritz Oeser and Michael Kaye have given us editions closer to Offenbach’s intentions than the corrupt Choudons edition that made the opera famous, but it’s hard to believe that Offenbach would have retained all the music they dug up, which, I think, stretches the opera to Wagnerian lengths. Ultimately, what these editors have provided are options , many of them very interesting and valid ones, leaving conductors to decide which ones serve their purpose; this, in fact, is what happened in the case of Oeser’s 1960s edition of Carmen.

The Choudons edition has the acts in the wrong order, is heavily cut, juggles the order of some music, and even includes numbers that were not intended for Hoffmann , but these changes are so tied to the audience’s expectations that some passages sound “wrong” unless the Choudons version is used. For example, Dapertutto’s “Diamond Aria” wasn’t even written for Tales of Hoffmann but it’s very effective where it is and no star bass-baritone would want to do without it (nor would I). Corrupt it may be, but the Choudons edition, which is, I believe, based on a Berlin staging from the early 20th century, works, and can be improved with minimal tweaking.

Pierre Monteux’s spirited conducting belies the fact that he was 80 years old when he led this 1955 Met broadcast. One would think that anyone who ran an opera house would be delighted to have one of the world’s most distinguished and versatile conductors on his staff, but Rudolf Bing had Monteux pigeonholed as a specialist in French music, refused to let him conduct anything else, and hence finally lost him. Given the kind of tenors who usually end up singing it, Richard Tucker’s assumption of the title role probably had more to do with box office than with artistic considerations, but this is one casting “mistake” that paid dividends, for he’s such an exuberant, impassioned Hoffmann that he actually brings this irresponsible, reckless romantic to life and, perhaps because he’s in unfamiliar territory, his performance is free from the vocal catches and shouting that sometimes marred his singing of Italian roles.

Happily, the Met has surrounded him with excellent colleagues. Monteux’s fast tempo doesn’t faze Roberta Peters as she easily tosses off Olympia’s coloratura; Risë Stevens sounds suitably seductive (and probably looked it) as Giulietta, and Lucine Amara is a sweet, lyric Antonia with enough power to bring off the ensemble with Dr. Miracle and her mother’s portrait. Dr. Miracle and Hoffmann’s other three nemeses are smoothly sung by Martial Singher (the “Diamond Aria” is taken down a half- tone but his nice climactic high G justifies it). The quadruple servant roles are done with his usual flair for comedy by the veteran Alessio de Paolis and the smaller roles are capably handled, too. In the prologue, you can’t miss the ringing tones of James McCracken as Nathaniel.

I have heard this recording from other sources but never sounding this vivid. Although the opera has been squeezed onto two discs, no act is interrupted by a side break. The Met audience tends to applaud whenever it hears a loud cadence whether it’s actually the end of something or not, and applauds the scenery in the Venetian Scene (it was kind of pretty, as I recall). No, this is not a “stylish” Hoffmann (for that, I still recommend the old mono Cluytens from 1948) but, with one of the world’s greatest maestros in charge, its star-studded cast delivers the goods and listening to it was a pleasure I intend to repeat in the future.

FANFARE: James Miller
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Works on This Recording

Les contes d'Hoffmann by Jacques Offenbach
Performer:  Roberta Peters (Soprano), Risë Stevens (Mezzo Soprano), Lucine Amara (Soprano),
Richard Tucker (Tenor), Martial Singher (Baritone)
Conductor:  Pierre Monteux
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Metropolitan Opera Chorus
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1881; Paris, France 
Date of Recording: 12/3/1955 

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