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Thread: Offenbach Opera on CD - Les Contes d'Hoffmann

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    BEST GIULIETTA

    I'm surprised by this one, but it's Schwarzkopf.

    Hoffmann - Cluytens II.jpg

    Giulietta needs to have a certain amount of class (she is the cream of Venice's decadent, pleasure seeking community), but she is a courtesan. Sutherland sounds too noble, Studer lacks character (despite singing the part exceptionally well), Bovy in the Cluytens mono set was recorded too late and has problems singing the role fluently. Norman is a wonderfully seductive Giulietta in the Cambreling set and Sumi Jo presents us with a lighter approach to the part, which not only works, but demonstrates how a coloratura soprano can undertake the usually richer voiced Giulietta and make it work (it's strange she wasn't cast as all the heroines in Nagano's set, since she has also sung Olympia).

    So what does a Venetian courtesan sound like? I find it hard to describe it in words, but I don't need to, whatever you want to call it, it's Schwarzkopf in the Cluyten's recording. I would never have imagined this casting to work, but it does and the role is acted out before our ears with superb vocal drama.

    Whilst this presents the Choudens edition complete (unlike the earlier Cluytens which has cuts as does the Abravanel) and has some superb singing not just from Schwarzkopf, but also from Gedda, Ghiuselev, Blanc and De los Angeles it has an equal amount of points against it. (A baritone Nicklausse - WHY!?, the already mentioned dull Olympia and a motley crew of villains, although Blanc delivers the best Scintille Diamant.) This is another set that can only be recommended for those who are fans of one or more of the singers (Gedda, Schwarzkopf or De los Angeles).

    N.
    Last edited by The Conte; Aug-18-2019 at 23:03.

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    Senior Member Becca's Avatar
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    "In early 2016, Jean-Christophe Keck announced he traced and identified the autograph-full manuscript of the Prologue and the Olympia act, with vocal lines by Offenbach and instrumental by Guiraud. The Antonia act and epilogue are in the Bibliothèque nationale de France, while the Giulietta act is in the Offenbach-family archives." - Wiki

    "Olympia is the one role properly suited to the coloratura soprano since it calls for the very negation of human intelligence." - Walter Legge

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    Quote Originally Posted by The Conte View Post
    BEST GIULIETTA

    I'm surprised by this one, but it's Schwarzkopf.

    Hoffmann - Cluytens II.jpg

    Giulietta needs to have a certain amount of class (she is the cream of Venice's decadent, pleasure seeking community), but she is a courtesan. Sutherland sounds too noble, Studer lacks character (despite singing the part exceptionally well), Bovy in the Cluytens mono set was recorded too late and has problems singing the role fluently. Norman is a wonderfully seductive Giulietta in the Cambreling set and Sumi Jo presents us with a lighter approach to the part, which not only works, but demonstrates how a coloratura soprano can undertake the usually richer voiced Giulietta and make it work (it's strange she wasn't cast as all the heroines in Nagano's set, since she has also sung Olympia).

    So what does a Venetian courtesan sound like? I find it hard to describe it in words, but I don't need to, whatever you want to call it, it's Schwarzkopf in the Cluyten's recording. I would never have imagined this casting to work, but it does and the role is acted out before our ears with superb vocal drama.

    Whilst this presents the Choudens edition complete (unlike the earlier Cluytens which has cuts as does the Abravanel) and has some superb singing not just from Schwarzkopf, but also from Gedda, Ghiuselev, Blanc and De los Angeles it has an equal amount of points against it. (A baritone Nicklausse - WHY!?, the already mentioned dull Olympia and a motley crew of villains, although Blanc delivers the best Scintille Diamant.) This is another set that can only be recommended for those who are fans of one or more of the singers (Gedda, Schwarzkopf or De los Angeles).

    N.
    I need to re-listen to this set. I seem to remember De Los Angeles sounding strained and below her best, and Schwarzkopf just not sounding right. They are two of my favourite sopranos too so I was a bit disappointed. Sounds like I should give them a second chance.
    "It's not enough to have a beautiful voice." Maria Callas

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    BEST ANTONIA

    This should be the easiest of the three heroines and yet most sopranos don't seem able to find their inner 'young girl'. Vaduva hits the spot, though.

    Hoffmann - Nagano.jpg

    On paper I would have expected De los Angeles to win this one, however, whilst her Antonia is wonderfully shy, she is too timid and some of the high leaps in the duet stretch her beyond her means (who knows why, it's most out of character for this singer). That said, De los Angeles slightly under par is still better than most of the rest of the competition. Norman in the Tate recording does a good job, but isn't really suited to the part and Sutherland resorts to crooning in her bid to express pathos. However, taking the biscuit for worst Antonia is Plowright as heard on the Cambreling set. She sounds far too mature for the role.

    Other than Vaduva, there is Boue on the earlier Cluytens and Bovy on the Abravanel who are both decent Antonias, if a little plain when it comes to the interpretation of the most placid of the facets of Stella's character. I find the duet and trio in the Antonia act some of the least interesting music in the opera, even though it could be argued that they are the most operatic. If they are worth hearing, then they are worth hearing sung well and with feeling and a sense of who the characters are. We get this almost to perfection from Alagna and Vaduva (who one can't help falling in love with - as one must if one is not to get annoyed with her singing when she knows it will kill her). So in summary, that's more house points to the Nagano set adding more in its favour.

    N.
    Last edited by The Conte; Aug-18-2019 at 23:27.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Tsaraslondon View Post
    I need to re-listen to this set. I seem to remember De Los Angeles sounding strained and below her best, and Schwarzkopf just not sounding right. They are two of my favourite sopranos too so I was a bit disappointed. Sounds like I should give them a second chance.
    It's always worth listening to a recording that we haven't heard in a while and seeing if the experiences we have had listening to singing in the meantime have changed our minds in the intervening years. Sometimes we are surprised to find how differently we remembered a set heard in the past, sometimes the surprise comes from our opinion remaining the same!

    The stereo Cluytens has as much to recommend it as there are shortcomings to keep people from buying it. I think Schwarzkopf (as you've never heard her before - and she does sound totally different to how she is on all her other recordings) alone makes the set worth having. However, it's swings and roundabouts and there are other better recordings of the opera for one reason or another.

    N.
    Last edited by The Conte; Aug-18-2019 at 23:36.

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    Quote Originally Posted by The Conte View Post
    It's always worth listening to a recording that we haven't heard in a while and seeing if the experiences we have had listening to singing in the meantime have changed our minds in the intervening years. Sometimes we are surprised to find how differently we remembered a set heard in the past, sometimes the surprise comes from our opinion remaining the same!

    The stereo Cluytens has as much to recommend it as there are shortcomings to keep people from buying it. I think Schwarzkopf (as you've never heard her before - and she does sound totally different to how she is on all her other recordings) alone makes the set worth having. However, it's swings and roundabouts and there are other better recordings of the opera for one reason or another.

    N.
    You've given us your best Olympia, Antonia and Giulietta. How about your best Hoffmann? And your best Lindorf/Coppélius/Dapertutto/Dr Miracle?
    "It's not enough to have a beautiful voice." Maria Callas

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    Quote Originally Posted by Tsaraslondon View Post
    You've given us your best Olympia, Antonia and Giulietta. How about your best Hoffmann? And your best Lindorf/Coppélius/Dapertutto/Dr Miracle?
    All to come (should have time tonight).

    N.

    P.S. There are also the four servants and I have a controversial choice for those roles.

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    Quote Originally Posted by The Conte View Post
    All to come (should have time tonight).

    N.

    P.S. There are also the four servants and I have a controversial choice for those roles.
    I'll look forward to it.

    PS I've just listened to the Giulietta act in stereo Cluytens recording. I have no idea why I didn't like Schwarzkopf's Giulietta before! I've now moved on to Antonia and De Los Angeles is also much better than I remembered, though she does sound a bit strained in the upper reaches at times. Gedda is excellent.
    "It's not enough to have a beautiful voice." Maria Callas

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    BEST VILLAINS

    It's Tibbett!

    Hoffmann - Abravanel.jpg

    I believe this is the first complete recording of the opera and since it's a live braodcast from the Met in 1937, the sound is decidedly historical. However, it is well worth a listen as it is the most consistent of the Chouden's recordings and features a superbly characterised account of the four villains. I also find Tibbett's French very authentic to my ear. Other points in its favour are the fact that the four heroines are all played by one soprano, Vina Bovy, who shows that it is possible to sing all the parts well and convincingly. (Other sopranos have bettered her in particular roles as I've already pointed out, but only Malfitano is as strong when it comes to singing all four.) Her Olympia is superbly mechanical, despite a couple of lapses in intonation, her Giulietta is richly sung seduction and she rides Antonia's music with passion, whilst being believably young and naive. The rest of the parts are well cast, even if none of the other singers are quite in the league of Tibbett and Bovy, however this is a set that is worth having.

    Other singers that I enjoy as the villains are Ramey on the Tate set and Van Dam who is on a number of recordings including the Nagano. I really don't understand why some recordings have a number of different basses and baritones in these roles and those sets that do all have one or more singers that disappoint (I wish Blanc had played all four villains on the second Cluytens and Andre Pernet is such a menacing Coppelius on his first version that I wonder why he didn't play the other incarnations of Hoffmann's nemesis too).

    N.
    Last edited by The Conte; Aug-19-2019 at 22:32.

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    BEST FOUR SERVANTS

    It's only fitting that my favourite singer in the four servant roles has a name that is almost an anagram of Bovril as this is going to be a marmite choice. (If you aren't British google is your friend, but my point is that you will either love or hate this singer.)

    Attachment 122752

    Bourvil was a French popular singer and film star that doesn't really sing these roles as present them in a type of comic sprechgesang that is very much in the style of cabaret. I very much like this approach and find his put upon tone hillarious, but I am sure others will disagree. There are a number of things about this recording from the Opera-Comique that give it an air of authenticity. The singers are entirely francophone and this set presents a performance style that made the Opera-Comique what it was and has now been lost due to the international nature of the contemporary opera scene. None of the singers doubles their parts excerpt for Bourvil (even the Muse isn't played by the Nicklausse which was also how the opera was performed at its premiere). There's a mix of opera singers and lighter singers that befits the hybrid nature of the work and this provides us with the wonderful Nicklausse of Fanely Revoil who was an operetta singer. Her playful, pert rendition of Une poupee aux yeux d'email is amongst the best. The second disc of the set isn't quite up to that of the first (Bovy's Giulietta is captured to late here and the villains singing in the Giulietta and Antonia acts are too smooth to be effective). However, the main drawback of the recording is Jobin's Hoffmann, which is the worst out of all the recordings I listened to. He is a hefty, big voiced Hoffmann, but doesn't know how to sing quietly and bawls his way through the opera. That said, there is much to enjoy in this recording.

    N.
    Last edited by The Conte; Aug-19-2019 at 22:50.

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    BEST NICKLAUSSE/MUSE

    Attachment 122753

    Von Otter is the perfect Nicklausse/Muse and her french is a dream. She is cool and knowing as the Muse and playful and sassy as Nicklausse (I view the character as being very similar to a pantomime principal boy with slapping of thighs rather than a boyish adolescent in the style of Cherubino). This recording has a lot to recommend it. The three heroines are nicely done if not extraordinary and as already mentioned Ramey is amongst the best villains. The edition is pure Offenbach, so good for purists and the conducting is lively and engaging. Araiza is too light of voice to really make a good Hoffmann, but he doesn't strain his voice or oversing and he is very listenable. All in all this one is worth listening to.

    N.

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    BEST HOFFMANN

    Hoffmann - Nagano.jpg

    There are two types of Hoffmann, the heroic, robust, hefty approach and the lighter voiced way of singing the role. A certain amount of heft is needed, but there are moments of quiet introspection in the part where a softer approach works wonders. Shicoff and Domingo are the best of the weightier voiced Hoffmanns as they both can produce the nuance needed for some of the character's inner thoughts. It's a shame that the recordings they are in are of the worst performing versions of the opera.

    The best amongst the lighter singers is Gedda, but again his recording has some serious shortcomings. Maison is a decent Hoffmann if not particularly distinguished and the worst is Jobin on the otherwise captivating mono Cluytens set, who bawls his way through the part as if it were a shouting contest. Araiza doesn't have the right voice for the role, but doesn't push his instrument and does better than I would have thought.

    What the role needs is a tenor with a medium to weighty voice that can also sing gorgeously spun pianissimi and has a natural feeling for the French language. That's Alagna and whilst I really enjoyed Shicoff, his spinto take of the role became wearing after a while, even though, as mentioned, he isn't always loud and LOUDER on the Cambreling set. Alagna may not impress instantly, but he is far more naturally a good Hoffmann and gives us more facets of an interesting character than the rest of the competition.

    N.

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    I said that I wasn't going to pick a winner, but I think there are two sets that for various reasons are pretty consistently good throughout and more strong points than shortcomings and they are the following:

    Not perfect, but this mostly francophone cast is very strong and we get the opera (almost) as Offenbach wanted it:

    Hoffmann - Nagano.jpg

    This is the more familiar Choudens edition (although there is no muse!) In any case it presents a very well sung Hoffmann:

    Hoffmann - Abravanel.jpg

    N.

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    Runners up:

    I prefer this version of the opera to any of the other recordings available and enjoy Von Otter and Ramey so much I am prepared to accept Araiza's take on Hoffmann:

    Hoffmann - Tate.jpg

    This is possible the best conducted Hoffmann and is totally French despite Jobin's shouty Hoffmann:

    Hoffmann - Cluytens I.jpg

    The mono Cluytens is better in the first half of the opera and not as much in the second half, whereas this recording starts off dull, but lifts in the Giulietta and Antonia acts:

    Hoffmann - Cluytens II.jpg

    N.

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    Honorable mention:

    This is a mixed bag and whilst I like the sound and conducting, it possible has more shortcomings than strong points, which are mostly Sutherland's Olympia, Domingo and Tourangeau:

    Hoffmann - Bonynge.jpg

    N.
    Last edited by The Conte; Aug-20-2019 at 22:07.

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