Hoffmann at Marseille

Tales of Hoffmann, Opéra de Marseille
By Francis Carlin
Published: December 23 2004 02:00 | Last updated: December 23 2004 02:00
We have surely not heard the last word on Offenbach’s attempt to get back into the world of grand opera, but this version, largely based on the new Keck edition, made me feel that I was hearing the work for the first time. Unveiled in Lausanne, it has now turned up in co-producer Marseilles.
Even the normally mute Stella gets to sing and the orchestration has had a face-lift, giving it a refined sheen that the conductor, Stéphane Denève, shows off proudly. The much-pilloried house orchestra plays so well that you have to pinch yourself to make sure it is really happening.
The impression of newness is reinforced by both production and casting. Laurent Pelly, the producer, exploits Chantal Thomas’s remarkably sombre and clever sets to create an eerily magical unity of style, not an easy task in a work that is a stylistic patchwork of bouffe and grand.
It is more than just the well-oiled stagecraft typified by an imaginative use of doors; aided by Jol Adam’s ghostly lighting, Pelly’s characters are unsettling emanations in a true opéra fantastique.
[Click *here* for remainder of article (subscription to Financial Times online required).]