Jacques Offenbach must be given credit for knowing what he was doing when he assigned the three female roles of his opera The Tales of Hoffmann to three sopranos. The only excusable reason for heaping them onto a single singer, as the Israeli Opera has done, might be budgetary constraints. It is grossly unfair to expect one unlucky soprano to impersonate three heroines so different in personality, character and tone color as the mechanical doll Olympia, the femme fatale Giulietta and the delicate, frail, physically and mentally sick Antonia.
Other questionable aspects of Derek Gimpel’s direction and Hans Schavernoch’s sets include video art screened on the rear of the stage, diverting the audience’s attention, and a purposelessly descending and ascending rear curtain that served no other purpose than to increase the audience’s confusion. Blissfully ignoring Offenbach’s intention that Nicklauss and the Muse’s roles be assigned to a female voice, they were unjustifiably imposed on a baritone. And for so-called originality’s sake, a car was substituted for a gondola – in Venice.
For those who could overlook these shortcomings, however, there was much to be enjoyed in this performance’s musical elements.
Lyubov Petrova was at her very best in the role of Antonia. Her pure, clear soprano perfectly suited this lovable character. As Olympia, on the other hand, all the notes were indeed accurate, but she acted as a standard coloratura singer, not as a mechanical doll, and in the part of Giulietta she did not convey the seductiveness of this role.
In the title role, Gustavo Porta’s radiant, expressive tenor made him an intense, enthusiastic yet also despairing lover. Vladimir Brauns’ dark-timbered, sonorous baritone menacingly impersonated the Evil’s role. As Franz, tenor Guy Mannheim emerged as a veritable comic talent, holding high notes long enough to increase the amusement.
The Israeli Opera Chorus vibrantly re-created the atmosphere of the wine-cellar crowd.
Conducted by Frederic Chaslin, the Symphony Orchestra Rishon LeZion poignantly emphasized the dramatic events and the emotional intensity.