A nightmarish, sickening fantasy – with luxury casting.
"Not suitable for under-18’s"
warns the publicity material – can this really be lovable ol’ Uncle
Offenbach of "Can-Can" fame? Dmitry Bertmann’s Helikon production
(revived from 1997) mines the macabre and stomach-turning in the Barbier-Carre
libretto to create something close to an "Opera Nasty". Nastiest
of all of Hoffmann’s four disastrous female encounters is the Antonia
scene… the daughter of a famous soprano longs to assume the mantle of
her dead mother, but is forbidden to sing due to a fatal lung condition.
To prevent Hoffmann getting the girl, the evil Dr Miracle conjures-up
a vision of Antonia’s mother, and blackmails her into singing herself
to death. An on-stage TV-monitor shows cheesy "top c’s and tiaras"
scenes of her famous mother in operetta, inter-cut with a cardiograph
that hits flat-line as the helpless girl collapses…. Alissa Gitsba
literally sung her heart out in the role.
This was dream casting – nearly every role was covered superbly. Nikolai
Dorozhkin stars as the drink-sodden fantasist, and his voice sits
ideally for this high-set lyric role. Partnering him as his "science-fiction
twin", identically dressed, is Svetlana Rossiyskaya as Niklaus
– a stunning vocal performance by any standards. Tatiana Kuinji
inevitably brought the house down with the Olympia numbers, a gift to
any coloratura soprano, and Ekaterina Oblezova enjoyed similar
success as Julietta. Sergei Toptygin seemed to bluster in the four-in-one
baritone roles, and couldn’t find the menace behind his words – meanwhile
Andrei Vylegzhanin seemed wasted as Luther, and one has to wonder how
this casting was reached?
It’s a longer evening than the
average Hoffmann, being conducted from the Oeser edition, assembled
in 1981, and utilising practically all of the material Offenbach produced,
edited, inserted, cut – striving to reach the "perfect" version
that death put beyond his reach. The role of Niklaus/Muse is enormously
increased – he/she has almost more material than Hoffmann himself. Bertmann
leaves their relationship ambivalent – is he/she his dream, his imagined
love, or some asexual inspiration as the "Muse"? After four
acts of highly credible androgyne from Rossiyskaya, there’s a final
moment which hints at either homosexuality or transvestism – the jury
is out as the curtain falls.
Alexander Volushuk coaxed
sweetness and delicate French style from the Helikon Orchestra. Inventive
scenery and costumes from resident team Nezhny and Tulubieva cannot
conceal how hopelessly inadequate this theatre building is. The orchestra
occupy what ought to be the front stalls; the stage is 3 metres deep;
scenery remains fixed in place since it is built on the spot; there
are no curtains and no flies. Bertmann’s company are victims of their
own outstanding abilities. By proving that it’s possible to achieve
world-class standards in abysmal conditions, they seem fated to be forced
to continue doing so; whilst frankly incompetent ensembles enjoy purpose-built
facilities in which to perform to their aunties and empty seats.