Les Contes d’Hoffmann review at Royal Opera House – ‘lacks clarity’

Vittorio Grigolo in Les Contes D'Hoffmann at the Royal Opera House. Photo: Tristram Kenton
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The oldest production in the Royal Opera’s repertory, John Schlesinger’s staging of The Tales of Hoffmann has reached the ripe old age of 36. The film director himself – whose first opera this was back in 1980 – died in 2003, the show’s costume designer, Maria Bjornson, the previous year. It’s hardly the fault of revival director Daniel Dooner that visually there’s a tired air to proceedings: it’s time for a replacement.

That said, elements of the show go well, despite routine conducting from Evelino Pido that on numerous occasions lacks clarity of ensemble. The hardworking Royal Opera Chorus, however, are on vigorous form.

What will linger in the memory from this revival are some fine individual performances and some excellent singing. Vittorio Grigolo throws himself gamely into the title role, singing and acting with commitment as the self-destructive, alcoholic writer. Though his switch back and forth from the raddled drunk of the prologue and epilogue to the romantic hero of the three tales involves some long pauses – and those big old sets cannot be easy to move either – he proves a striking exponent of the arduous title role.

American mezzo Kate Lindsey nevertheless comes close to stealing the show from him with her flawlessly sung, immaculately observed double role as Hoffmann’s young amanuensis Nicklausse and his protective Muse.

Both Christine Rice’s lusciously sung courtesan Giulietta and Sonya Yoncheva’s grandly vocalised but doomed singer Antonia hold the attention, though Sofia Fomina needs more vocal and physical precision as the doll Olympia.

Christophe Mortagne offers a neat comic-grotesque vignette as Olympia’s creator Spalanzani, while Vincent Ordonneau’s quadrupling up in the four servant roles is consistently clever. Thomas Hampson’s four villains, however, shows his voice in decline and his acting hammy, while Eric Halfvarson disappoints as Antonia’s father, Crespel.

Mixed values in a revival of John Schlesinger’s 1980 production