By: David Sheward
High culture is currently plentiful in New York with magnificent examples of opera and ballet. One takes a non-conventional approach while the other adheres to the staging from the 19th century, but both quicken the pulse and stimulate the mind. The Metropolitan Opera is presenting a revival of Tony winner Bartlett Sher’s opulent interpretation of Offenbach’s Contes d’Hoffman (Tales of Hoffman) while BAM is hosting St. Petersburg’s Mariinsky Ballet in a familiar yet brilliant rendering of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake.
Hoffman is usually thought of as a lighter-than-air exercise when compared with weightier works such as Aida or Carmen, but Sher’s imaginative staging brings out the passion beneath the fluffy comedy and adds depth to Offenbach’s charming music. Based on a trio of stories by Hoffman himself, the opera depicts the author’s adventures in romance in respectively farcical, melodramatic, and tragic terms. With the aide of Michael Yeargen’s stunning sets, Catherine Zuber’s sumptuous costumes and James F. Ingalls’ shimmering lighting, Sher creates three separate and fascinating worlds for each of the acts. First Hoffman enters the sideshow of Dr. Spalanzani where the writer falls in love with the robot Olympia. Then he ventures into the autumnal mansion of Crespel to fall for the singer Antonia, and finally he glides through the decadent salon of the Venetian courtesan Giulietta, a luxurious den of iniquity resembling the milieu of Fellini’s Casanova.
Hoffman’s three loves are usually played by the same singer and tend to overshadow the male lead. Here they are sung by separate divas and the focus is on the connection between Vittorio Grigolo’s Hoffman and Kate Lindsey’s Nicklausse, his muse in the guise of a male companion. The amorous incidents now chart the development of a writer rather than just serve as attractive vocal set pieces. Yet they are still the latter with Grigolo employing his rich tenor to depict Hoffman’s anguish and Lindsay’s mellow and warm mezzo soprano imparting both Nicklausse’s compassion and the muse’s wisdom. Of the three female leads, Erin Morley’s Olympia is the showiest with her lovely trills and scales speeding up and slowing as the mechanical doll’s engine alternately accelerates and stalls, but Hibla Gerzmava’s Antonia and Christine Rice’s Giulietta are equally captivating. Bass Thomas Hampson admirably fills the multiple roles of Hoffman’s nemesis in each episode.
While the Met’s Hoffman varies from the original, the Mariinsky Ballet’s presentation of Swan Lake is as traditional as its premiere over a century ago. In fact, it employs the 1895 choreography from its first performance at the Mariinsky by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov, with 1950 revisions by Konstantin Sergeyev. The beauty and majesty of this classic work as exquisitely rendered with maestro Valery Gergiev masterfully conducting at the performance attending. (There were a few protestors outside the BAM Howard Gilman Opera demonstrating against Gergiev’s support of Putin’s government.) Viktoria Tereshkina was demure elegance itself as Odette, the swan princess, but I preferred her as the seductive black swan Odile. She totally commanded the stage and made her bewitchment of the prince Siegfried (the charismatic Vladimir Shlyarov) a dance of gleeful manipulation. Andrei Yermakov made a dark and powerful Rothbart, the evil conjurer, and Vladislav Shumakov nearly stole the show as an athletic, joyful Joker.
Tales of Hoffman: Jan. 12-March 21. Metropolitan Opera at Lincoln Center, 165 W. 65th St., NYC. Schedule varies. Running time: three hours and 25 including two intermissions. $25-$300. (212) 362-6000 or www.metopera.org
Photography: Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera
Swan Lake: Jan. 15-23. Mariinsky Ballet at BAM Howard Gilman Opera House, 30 Lafayette Ave., Brooklyn, NY. Wed.-Fri., 7:30 p.m. Running time: three hours and ten minutes with two intermissions. $35- (718) 636-4100 or www.bam.org.
Photography: Jack Vartoogian/FrontRowPhotos and Dave Morgan coutesy of BAM
Originally Published on January 19, 2015 in ArtsinNY.com