Offenbach’s last, unfinished,
work is a masterpiece of romantic fantasy
based upon stories of E. T. A. Hoffmann.
This DVD is of a recording produced
by BBC Television of the late John Schlesinger's
magnificent production for Covent Garden
in the early Eighties.
Vocally this performance
is outstanding, led by Placido Domingo
in his prime, surely the best Hoffmann
of his generation. Not only is he vocally
stylish but also dramatically convincing
in a part which is not easy to pull
off. His ‘Ballad of Kleinzach’ in the
Prologue sets the scene for the entire
opera. Domingo also makes you believe
that the doll, Olympia (played here
in an outstanding performance by Luciana
Serra) is a woman rather than an artefact.
Domingo is also in good voice in his
duets in Acts three and four.
Agnes Baltsa is a voluptuous
Giulietta and Ileana Cotrubas's Antonia
is well portrayed. The dark voice of
Nicolai Ghiuselev achieves a real sense
of evil as Dr Miracle and Geraint Evans
as Coppelius is most enjoyable. The
secret of performing this opera is to
make you believe in the unbelievable
and in this the cast succeeds to a remarkable
degree: it is hard to think that we
shall see this opera better sung.
It is therefore most
disappointing that the colour appears
throughout as faded and the impact of
William Dudley's spectacular sets and
Maria Bjornson's costumes is minimised.
This may be due to the NTSC processing
or the use of inferior analogue cameras
but it is seriously detrimental to the
enjoyment of what is otherwise an outstanding
In recordings the conducting
of Georges Prêtre has sometimes
been disappointing. Here however he
was in good form and the orchestral
playing is enjoyable, with the various
leitmotivs being played with conviction
(although Prêtre cannot dispel
the memory of Sir Thomas Beecham’s masterly
conducting of this score – especially
in the famous Barcarolle). The sound
recording alas is on a par with the
colour and is decidedly lacking in clarity
and dynamic and frequency range. The
presentation is adequate but no notes
or extras are offered.
Overall this is a very
enjoyable performance of a fascinating
opera with marvellous singing and acting
which is let down by mediocre colour
and sound recording.