[Met Performance] CID:170000

Opening Night {71}, New Production, General Manager: Rudolf Bing

Les Contes d'Hoffmann
Metropolitan Opera House, Mon, November 14, 1955

Les Contes d'Hoffmann (70)
Jacques Offenbach | Jules Barbier
Richard Tucker

Roberta Peters

Risë Stevens

Lucine Amara

Natalie Kelepovska

Lindorf/Coppélius/Dappertutto/Dr. Miracle
Martial Singher

Mildred Miller

Alessio De Paolis

Lawrence Davidson

James McCracken

Calvin Marsh

Paul Franke

Clifford Harvuot

Norman Scott

Mother's Voice
Sandra Warfield

Pierre Monteux

Cyril Ritchard

Rolf Gérard

Les Contes d'Hoffmann received sixteen performances this season.

Review 1:

Review of Irving Kolodin in the Saturday

To begin an opera season with Offenbach, as Rudolf Bing did his sixth at the Metropolitan, bespeaks a certain civilized attitude toward the art and the occasion. For one thing, "Tales of Hoffmann" - which starts and ends in a wine cellar, with various thirst-quenching detours en route - is possibly the only opera in which the principal characters do more drinking than some members of the festive gathering. It has a sufficient complement of familiar tunes (the end of "Barcarolle" was greeted like a reprise of "Some Enchanted Evening") to make everyone present feel learned, however lightly, and it does not fight the mood of fine feathers making fine birds.

However, not every audience that will view the "Tales" is an opening one. In fact, one might say "fortunately" not every audience that will view the "Tales" is an opening one, for, the production, handsomely dressed by Rolf Gerard, is tastefully lavish and discreetly elegant, the staging of Cyril Ritchard is so good that one almost forgets a very gifted theatrical mind has put it together, and Pierre Monteux waves a methodical baton over a cast with few flaws and some sparkling facets. All this deserved much more in audience reaction than it was awarded, but the 3,500 or so present enriched the Metropolitan's treasury by some $65,000, so one may say they had registered a profitable approval before the curtain was raised.

Considering the involutions of the libretto the busy Jules Barbier (he was also in on "Faust" and numerous other French classics) made of the ETA Hoffmann stories from which the work derives its name, it was a reasonable curiosity, in some quarters, why an English text wasn't provided in this instance as in some other recent Metropolitan ones. The readiest answer, it would seem, is that this would have thrown a linguistic block in the path of Martial Singher, who took on the four-part stint - Lindorf, Coppelius, Dappertutto, and Dr. Miracle - which challenged such great baritones as Maurice Renaud forty and more years ago, and performed brilliantly throughout. Singher, in the phrase, is an artist to his fingertips, and he has very long hands. Moreover, inexplicable as it may sound, he sang with more suavity and finesse than he did ten years ago in a similar venture decreed by Edward Johnson.

For the sake of euphony it was a happy circumstance that Singher was accompanied in each tableau - from first to last - by Richard Tucker, whose Hoffmann suggested, rather conclusively, that his destiny, really, is to be a French tenor in the heroic style. The range suits him, as does the fall of the vowels, all adding up to a heady, pointedly brilliant sound. There is no single high-spot for the tenor in "Hoffmann," but Tucker made every sustained passage a high spot, while cresting the ensembles with a ringing brightness all his own. Allowing for the fact that poets sit down a good deal - and Hoffmann was also a drinking man - Tucker's figure was not too much out of line, his actions not only diligent but sometimes believable. Also responsible for four parts was Alessio de Paolis, whose dramatic skill transcends a diminishing vocal resource.

From the dark-brown Luther's cellar (suggesting the hangovers appropriate to it) designed by Gerard, through the Directoire ballroom of the Doll Scene and the Venetian vista dominated by a suggestion of Santa Lucia in the background, to the more formal Munich interior of Act III, the production has the valiant intent of focusing attention on the various loves of Hoffmann - the doll Olympia, the courtesan Giulietta, the wistful Antonia. It would have been a more jubilant occasion had the female participants matched the standard of the male, but the unhappy fact is that they didn't. Roberta Peters, as Olympia, came the closest, with a charming visualization of her role, and a decidedly neat if small-scaled singing of the music. It was, however, always tasteful and in character. I would prefer a veil rather than a mirror for the performance of Rise Stevens as Giulietta, but the plain-spoken fact must be that she has neither the vocal nor the physical allure these days to function as an operatic femme fatale. The vocal effort is labored (though the music was obligingly lowered for her convenience), the physical gyrations uncomfortably suggestive of tension rather than amour. Bing may be paying off old scores in thus favoring her, but let's hope the new scores to come will put the romantic emphasis elsewhere than on Miss Stevens's too familiar shoulders. Lucine Amara's Antonia was more tentative than assured, but a reasonable investment, nevertheless, in a voice whose exciting possibilities registered even on this audience.

In less prominent but no less vital respects the flow of the performance was highly creditable to the chorus directed by Kurt Adler, the appropriate choreography devised by Zachary Solov, and the many fine incidental efforts by Paul Franke, James McCracken, Norman Scott, Clifford Harvuot, and Sandra Warfield. The difficult role of Nicklausse - a kind of Kurvenal to Hoffmann, though assigned to a mezzo - was undertaken by Mildred Miller, performed with her intelligence and sensitivity. However, she did not quite resolve the paradox inherent in the role, which puts her among the majority of those charged with this responsibility.

Taking all factors together, there would seem little doubt that Rudolf Bing has added to the Metropolitan repertory a work of classic stature in its field, with a visual and dramatic pattern of much vitality, soundly directed by a qualified master of the genre, and generally well sung. Offenbach's "Tales of Hoffmann" is decidedly a work that must be played to develop all its latent possibilities. That certainly it will be in the weeks to come.

Photograph of Risë Stevens as Giulietta in Les Contes d'Hoffmann by Bender.

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