22 February 2012

Tales of Hoffmann at ENO

I do not think of myself as a big opera fan yet I found myself at the start of the year with tickets to ten of them, including five at Glyndebourne and three at the English National Opera (ENO). And it was ENO that came up first with The Tales of Hoffmann.

I have mixed feelings about ENO their venue, the London Coliseum.

I prefer operas to be sung as they were written, i.e. in their original language, and fail to see the point to translating them to English and then having sur titles in English too.

Perhaps they should do the sur titles in the original language for the purists.

The London Coliseum has charm but I feel that it over relies on that at the expense of comfort and convenience. Getting a drink during the interval is very hard and that is still easier than trying to get a seat. Also some of the steps to the theatre are a little harder than you would like. This is meant to be a place of entertainment not an endurance course.

I tend to judge operas by their music, singing, story and staging, and why change a method that works?

The music is pleasant enough but you do not catch yourself humming any of the tunes on the tube home.

With so little to work with the singers do exceptionally well. No complaints on that side at all. The tales of Hoffmann and his women makes this an opera of solos and duets rather than choruses so it is captivating rather than rousing.

The basic tenant of the story is cute. Hoffmann hides from his lover by going to the pub with his mates where he regales them with three stories about women, or three aspects of the same woman.

Hoffman loses each of the women in the stories and then his real-life lover as he prefers to stay in the pub. He concludes by announcing that he has gained more through his loss than he would have done through the easier option of love. It is sort of a sad ending but one which ends with the hero happy.

ENO recognises that the opera lacks a little in some areas and so makes an effort with the staging, and this pays off. I liked the trick of finding ingenious ways for the cast to make their entrances and exists, such as arriving through cupboards and pianos.

It is also a vibrant and energetic performance with lots of motion on the stage and the soloists climbing on chairs and tables to be heard the better.

There is nothing terribly wrong with the Tales of Hoffman and there is nothing particularly special about it either. That kind of makes it average, which is OK. It is only in schools where satisfactory is a dirty word, elsewhere it means good enough.

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