Jones Brilliant Production
"I prefer Offenbach to Bach often" – Also sprach Sir Thomas Beecham. So, hurry to the London Coliseum where on February 10 English National put on a scintillating new production by Richard Jones of Offenbach's perennial favourite, The Tales of Hoffman. Offenbach was a German who lived in France most of his life. Having written a string of successful operettas he decided to have a crack at a grand opera. Death began to overtake him and he could not finish it (the premiere was in Paris in 1881, the year after the composer died). Guiraud who wrote the recitatives for Carmen did the same service for the Tales and orchestrated the whole thing. Various editions exist but the opera is rather a mess. Offenbach's numbers, songs, arias, duets etc., are fine, rull of favourites melodies and fascinating musical ideas, but the bits in between are lumpy hackwork so that the score is a hodgepodge. But the plot is intriguing and the tunes are winners, that’s why it is still in the repertoire.
There are three Tales, each in a different venue (though all in the same single set in this production – i.e. no gondolas for the Venice Tale) and each is devoted to a different girl that Hoffman woos without scoring a hit: Olympia because she is a doll, Antonia because she is a sick singer, who will die if she sings, and Guiletta apparently because she is a tart. Barry Banks sang all the notes (its a difficult role) but he is no romantic heartthrob. Georgia Jarman, American soprano was stunning as Olympia, a lifelike doll (!), singing and acting the part superbly. Alas, in the other acts she sang loudly and her intonation suffered accordingly. Her tartiness consisted of swishing her skirt incessantly. The subsidiary parts (three venues means a big cast) were all well cast and played, headed by the always excellent Clive Bayley as Lindorf and Dapertutto, Christine Rice as Hoffmann's trouser-role boy companion Nicklaus, Iain Paton/Spalaanzani, Simon Betteries/Frantz and Tom Fackrell/Schlemil.
What a treasure that famous Barcarolle is! To be told that it was originally part of another work altogether is like being told that there aint' no Santa Claus; such a lilting lulu, the very essence of Venice one would think.
Permit a grouch and a suggestion anent surtitles: they are too small in this theatre, illegible to many of the audience. And why not indicate the name of the character as he or she sings for the first time? So often one needs to know.