Les Contes d'Hoffman - Royal Opera House, 1 December 2008
Sometimes productions improve as they progress. And sometimes they don't. This was only the third night in the current run of Les Contes d'Hoffmann, and already a routine, lacklustre feel has crept in. Not from Rolando Villazón, I hasten to add, who gave it 100%, and managed to sound more relaxed than he had on opening night.
But when the chorus drifted almost irretrievably apart from the orchestra for the third time in the first half hour, I had to gaze down and check whether Pappano had fainted or something. It would be understandable (if not excusable) from some inexperienced visiting conductor. But when the music director of Covent Garden can't hold his own players together where the only real challenge is a brisk tempo, you have to wonder what's going on.
It was a shabby start that set the tone for the rest of the evening. Despite Pappano flinging himself around like a sock monkey on an electric fence, he couldn't whip the music up to the necessary froth.
Rolando Villazón and Graham Clark were again the only consistently satisfying singers, though Kristine Jepson's Nicklausse was improved, her presence more authoratative.
Gidon Saks again produced a wonderfully sinister and sonorous Dr Miracle for the Antonia act - it's unfortunate the rest of his performance didn't measure up to this standard. This is the only act which really works on a dramatic level in this production anyway, the only time I felt drawn in. Recent studies have shown that Offenbach meant it to come before the Giulietta act. But here, its darkness and sobriety help it sit more neatly the other way round.
There was a new Olympia this time - Vassiliki Karayanni - with a lovely musical line, firm trills and effortless top notes. The odd note slipped off-target, but hers still proved the most popular performance of the night with the audience.
A disturbing observation - although the stalls and amphitheatre were near-full, there were an embarrassing number of (expensive) empty seats in the levels in-between. Not something you'd expect when Rolando Villazón is on offer in a crowd-pleasing show. A sign of credit-crunching things to come?
Below is the first of a series of YouTube videos called The Real Tales of Hoffmann which document the recent reconstruction of Offenbach's original score (or at least, a closer version of it than the time-honoured one used in the ROH's production):