Cher Public

Thus spake Tommasini

familycircus8“I will have more to say on this question later.” So, three weeks ago, Anthony Tommasini left open the subject of how “[n]one of the versions of [Les Contes d’Hoffmann] that have appeared over the years, some of them corrupted, can be said to be authentic.” The Times scribe has at last broken his silence, though La Cieca will leave it up to the reader to decide whether he actually has “more to say.” [NYT]

  • Will

    La Forza d’Inertia strikes again and Mr. T is OK with it. He thinks Offenbach would be OK with it. Balderdash indeed. The MET is once again being lazy and placing a very different work than Offenbach envisioned before the public. It was Levine who should have been criticized for this Hoffmann, not Bartlett Sher.

    • quoth the maven

      Will—I think part of the point is that nobody really knows the work that Offenbach “envisioned.” He didn’t live to complete it, and everything since then—from the Opera-Comique premiere (sans the Venice act) to the standard Choudens edition (an early 20th-century invention, I think) to the editions of Oeser, Kaye and Keck—are all forms of guesswork.

  • amoebaguy

    Very well said. I completely agree.
    And as for “quoththermaven”‘s comment:
    And as far as the Kaye edition being “guesswork” -- that is hardly the case. It bothers me when critics (and even Tommasini has done this to some extent)use the fact that Offenbach had not made finalizations AFTER seeing the work in the theatre as an excuse for playing around with it. As has been emphasized, Offenbach clearly knew what he was about at least as far as the end of the Giulietta act, and Kaye’s edition represents this and only this. And the fact that “alternate” versions of the arias exist does not reflect that Offenbach did not know what he wanted (most of these “alternates” had been discarded by mid-1880). The old “Offenbach never completed it so we can do whatever the hell we want to it” saw, is a lame excuse, particularly in light of all the new scholarship.

    • amoebaguy

      I may have made it appear that Kaye’d edition ends with the Giulietta act! Just realized this, so I must clarify. Offenbach also left a large number of authentic material for the final act (the epilogue), but here the decision of what to use is editorial. However, Kaye’s edition allows for several satisfactory solutions based on this material (there are several different authentic versions of the finale/”apotheosis”, for example, including one in which Stella sings). None of these solutions has to go any further afield than Offenbach’s own work for this act (unless one chooses to use Guiraud’s recitatives for this act).
      Nothing in Kaye’s edition is “guesswork” if all we’re attempting is to see how Offenbach envisioned the opera at the time of his death. And that’s all we can do.

  • Once again, TT is up Levine’s ass. has he ever not being a mouth piece for the Met and the powers that be?

    One think is true, with the many casting changes so late in the game, it would have been difficult THIS TIME to put a new edition out, but there was no need for that epilogue to go on and on and on like a Duracell bunny.

    • Arianna a Nasso

      I’m sorry, I don’t buy the argument that because of cast changes, one could not use the Kaye edition this time around. Calleja has never sung Hoffmann before so he was learning any version from scratch. Similarly, other than Held, weren’t all the other singers new to their roles? Even with Held, Pape cancelled months ago, so surely Held could have relearned the variations in the role between the two versions.

      Also, given that rehearsal periods for revivals at the Met tend to be much shorter than for new productions, how could a revival be considered a more appropriate opportunity to introduce a new edition with significant changes in the music and therefore the staging.

      • When did Calleja get the contract?

        When did Held get get his?

        When was Lindsey announced as taking over?

        we are talking about 3 performers who would have had very little time between any engagements to learn this. Calleja very likely dropped everything for this, but how do we know that held had the time to completely relearn all 4 roles and Lindsey the time to relearn the part as well?

        Learning a new opera (that would be what this is) when you have commitments and other stuff plus rehearsing and all that bull is not the kind of situation you want to be as a performer. No performer wants to have all that pressure on them.

        I believe that had the cast remained unchanged or basically unchanged the met would have had the time to request their artists to relearn the part (as they should with the revival cast). To have these many artists relearn their part in one month, I am not sure it is feasible, fair or even the best move.

        I think the HD transmission should have been pulled back to a time when the cast could have been reassembled (or a different cast put together) with the appropriate time for everyone to learn and coach their respective roles. The Met has done it before and could be done again.

        • Cassandra

          You’re assuming Calleja and Held would have sung or been working on the Met version in the first place which is wrong because the Met is the only place this version of the score is performed.

        • Given the fact that Held has done 10 productions of this opera, vhances are he has encountered a lot of different music for this opera/ I think it is safe to presume he had a lot of it already in his memory.

          We all know Calleja learned from scratch.

  • Krunoslav

    What toadying nonsense. One could as well say that since KHOVANSHCHINA and TURANDOT and MOSES UND ARON and LULU were left unfinished, absolutely anything one did to make them more slick and marketable would be fine.

  • androgenous

    this article is really much a do about nothing. They could have perhaps shortened it and removed that sextett which is not Offenbachs.
    After everything has been said and written the fact remains that this production garnered much more positive than negative mentions and the shows were sold out. The nights I attended the people gave it a standing ovation and as of late no one can accuse the met audience of not voicing its disapproval for what it doesn’t like. I have heard some singers booed lately (not vociferously but there were boos) there along with conductors and production teams.

    Quoting Pavarotti -- “the audience is always right…”

    • Arianna a Nasso

      “The nights I attended the people gave it a standing ovation and as of late no one can accuse the met audience of not voicing its disapproval for what it doesn’t like.”

      Be careful. We all know how a standing ovation has become almost standard behavior these days. Also, after the opening, who is the audience to address its disapproval of a production at curtain calls? Unless Sher has been taking a bow at every performance you attended, how can you tell the audience liked the production?

      • androgenous

        Mostly by the applause given to the Giulietta scene as the curtain opens. I also attended enough performances to know the difference between getting one’s coat on and heading for the car park and giving the show a standing ovation.

        This season alone I have heard boos for some singers in Turandot and of course the new production of Tosca.

    • Jay

      Hoffmann was nearly sold out a long time ago; has nothing to do with the quality of the production but because people thought they were getting more Netrebko than they finally got, and originally Villazon and Pape.

  • Alto

    “We all know how a standing ovation has become almost standard behavior these days.”

    Yes. And, besides, it’s sometimes difficult to discern who is standing-ovulating and who is just getting his coat on.

  • Baritenor

    I think Tommasini’s got some good points. I don’t totally agree with the article, but I don’t totally disagree. The question of authenticity is a really vast one when it comes to Hoffmann; for example, Kaye’s reconstructed Giulietta act, as heard on the Kent Nagano recording has almost no similarity to Oeser’s reconstructed Giulietta act, as heard on the Sylvian Cambreling: The order of numbers is different, there is a different aria for Giulietta, and of course the ending is drastically different. Both claim authenticity; and obviously Kaye had access to more sketches. But who is to say that what Kaye discarded from Oeser’s edition wasn’t actually more accurate, that Offenbach intended something closer to Oeser’s edition. And, as heard on the Nagano recording, Kaye includes the spurious Sextet (actually, he includes it in a place where it makes less impact). So there are a lot of questions:

    Also, here’s what makes me roll my eyes at this whole squabble: The Met’s edition actually includes most of the major changes in the Kaye edition. By major, I basically mean everything but the recit. Here’s a list (which is from memory, admitedly, of the major differences between Kaye and Choudens:


    Short B section added by Kaye in the Spirits of Beer and wine chorus
    The Muse’s aria and recit (Included in Met edition)
    Second verse of the Hoffmann-Lindorf insult duet added by Kaye


    First (and more interesting) version of Nicklause’s couplets (included)
    Trio des yeux rather than Coppelius’s aria (included)
    A Hoffmann-Nicklausse duet
    About thirty seconds of music added to the finale


    Act in correct order (Included)
    Nicklausse’s aria (Included)
    Rest of the act is the same.


    two lines of recit for Hoffmann before the Barcarole
    “Tourne, Tourne” instead of “Sciantille Diamant”
    Added Gambling Scene
    Coloratura Aria for Giulietta
    Death of Schlemil is earlier in the Act.
    Act ends with Hoffmann accidentally killing Pitichinaccio, Giulietta mourns for him briefly as Hoffmann is dragged away by Police.

    Hoffmann interupts the Drinking chorus (included)
    Stella enters, Hoffmann recjects her (included)
    Lindorf escourts Stella out, Hoffmann sings one last verse of Kleinzach (included)
    Nicklausse addresses Hoffmann, changes back into Muse with the aid of the Spirits of Liquor
    Grand Finale (Included)

    So, as you can see, Levine effectively sticks the revisions for four out of the five acts, choosing to return to Choudens for Giulietta, probably for reasons of length. Which isn’t a great reason, but, you know what? It’s understandable.

    • amoebaguy

      It would be ludicrous to imply that Oeser’s Giulietta act is more authentic than Kaye’s, simply because there is so much in Oeser’s version that doesn’t come from Offenbach’s sketches. Two large numbers in Oeser (including a huge ensemble in the gambling scene and a second aria for Giulietta with chorus) were drawn from “Die Rheinnixen”, for example. There is absolutely NO indication that Offenbach wanted to use any more music from “Rheinnixen” than he actually did, and no indication that, even if he had, he would have chosen these. Also, Oeser drastically re-wrote the libretto to allow for this music, used more unauthorized music from “Rheinnixen” to fill out the recitatives, and even wrote music of his own! Furthermore, the version of “L’amour luit dit: ‘la belle'” used in Oeser is an earlier one which Offenbach had discarded, and even here Oeser could not leave well enough alone: he re-wrote the sung text (“L’amour dit: ‘La fortune'”)and added a choral part which was not in Offenbach’s original. In short, Oeser’s Giulietta act is a concoction of his own.
      In Kaye, there is no extraneous music at all. Kaye’s version of the act represents the act as it was rehearsed at the Opera-Comique before Carvalho decided to jettison the Giulietta act entirely; thusly, it reflects authentically Offenbach’s final thoughts on the Giulietta act at the time of his death.

      • Baritenor

        I was not aware of that. Thanks for the correction Amoebaguy (are you by any chance associated with Ameoba music? Because I love that store.)

        • amoebaguy

          Yes! I work at the Amoeba store in Hollywood (although I will soon be taking a year off to take care of my ailing mother and complete my book on “Hoffmann”).
          Thank you for not taking offense at my correction.
          It should also be stated that the materials which the Met is using that coincide with Kaye’s edition are still being used in Oeser’s versions. For example, when he re-instated the “Trio des yeux”, Oeser had only Offenbach’s earlier, un-orchestrated version written for a baritone Hoffmann, to go on. Oeser orchestrated it himself (in a particularly un-idiomatic manner -- that insistent snare drum!) and made the necessary changes in Hoffmann’s part. But a more authentic, orchestrated version has surfaced since then which dates, I believe, from the early rehearsal period at the Opera-Comique before the number was cut (This is the version used in Kaye). This is just one of many differences between Oeser and Kaye.
          I doubt if too many people in the audience would notice much of this, or even care, but, in my opinion, it matters.

    • jim

      It’s worth looking at the changes between Choudens and the Met’s version by singer: Hoffmann is almost unchanged, he loses the reprise after the Muse’s melodrama in the Epilogue; the heroines are unchanged; of the villains three are unchanged, only Coppelius gets his aria replaced with the trio, and that’s his only change; but the Muse/Nicklausse is essentially rewritten.

      My suspicion is that these changes came with the decision to cast Garanca as the Muse/Nicklausse. And that there was some idea in Gelb & Levine’s heads to push the expansion of the Muse/Nicklausse as the story line for the new production (and push Garanca with it). Tommasini’s column would have been about Garanca and the music that had been revived for her. But when Garanca moved over to Carmen, that idea was dropped.

  • Lalala

    I know the Michael Kaye edition well and can also say that it wouldn’t have been that hard for the singers to have learned something other than what they learned for the Met production. This isn’t that difficult, folks. We’re talking intelligent musicians here. The cast changes were announced in May-June and the singers had plenty of time to learn whatever version was required.

    As for them knowing the music before this production, as has been said, much of the music is the same. And as for Held, he has sung much (if not all) the Michael Kaye edition already in Hamburg and Berlin.

    If the newer editions were wanted, it could have been done. However, having said that, I’m not disappointed in the least with the version the Met is doing. I think this is much ado about nothing.

    • warmke

      Of course, the issue is not one of whether Levine is lazy in not attempting the newer edition, rather it’s more a question of who is better situated to judge what is theatrically and musically more effective, the man who has been running one of the world’s great opera houses for over thirty years, or Captain Ahab? It’s rather transparent what the answer is, being the person with the greater objectivity in judging the materials.

  • Krunoslav

    So how do all the “Whatever the Met does, is good’ posters defend their doing the upcoming new DON CARLO in Italian?

    (You can save Tony some brain power *avant la lettre*…)

    • Given the fact that Verdi himself oversaw the work, i do not see a problem with Don Carlos being done in Italian at the Met or any other house.

      Verdi disliked working on the French language and if i am not wrong, he actually worked on the opera in an Italian translation, only to have the French text superimposed (I will be willing to be corrected on this, it has been too long since i read this tidbit).

      Not only that, but right after the Opera premiered, all other productions sanctioned by Verdi were in Italian, I do not see how this applies.

      Would I like to see the Met do a Don Carlos in French? ABSOLUTELY! But to call for the wrath of the musicological gods because they are doing it in Italian, that is far fetched given the evidence.

      One last point, given the proficiency of several of the singers who would be cast in this hypothetical French Don Carlos, I would rather hear it in Italian.

      • I am afraid you are very much mistaken about the setting of Don Carlos. The text was written in French and Verdi set these French words, with the exception of a line here and there he objected to (e.g., a slur calling Italians “race faible et poltronne.”)

        It is true that Verdi had some miserable experiences working at the Paris Opera, but that had little to do with the language and everything to do with the very different working conditions there: I believe he once (hyperbolically) complained that it took a meeting of the board of directors to decide whether the leading lady should gesture with her left hand or her right.

        After Don Carlos failed at the Opera (despite some, not all, favorable reviews) Verdi allowed the work to be adapted for the Italian and international stage in an Italian language version. But this proves nothing one way or the other about Verdi’s preferences: Italian was the standard operatic language internationally (except for German-speaking countries). Therefore Faust, Carmen, Les Huguenots and even Lohengrin were best known worldwide in Italian translation until around the turn of the 20th century.

        The du Locle-Méry libretto for Don Carlos is neither great poetry nor (in many places) great drama, but it has the distinct advantage of being written in a straightforward and literate style, without the many inversions and other distortions of syntax that litter the Italian translation. Budden chooses as a particularly telling example a line in the middle section of Elisabeth’s great aria. In French she sings:

        “Fontainebleau! Mon coeur est plein de votre image!” [Fontainebleau! My heart is filled with your image.]

        In Italian, this lovely line is gnarled into

        “Fontainebleau! ver voi schiude il pensiero i vanni!” [Fontainebleau! Toward thee opens my thought the pinions.]

        And no, “vanni” does not quite mean “wings” (not that Elisabeth even mentioned wings in the original). It’s a deliberate archaic usage, the kind of diction hack Italian librettists fell back on when they wanted to sound grand and old-timey.

        Anyone who can sing a role in Don Carlo in Italian can sing the same role in Don Carlos in French: it’s simply a matter of learning the words. I am sure there was a time when a lot of baritones dragged their feet about relearning “Dio possente” from Faust, too, but they did it.

        • Arianna a Nasso

          ” it’s simply a matter of learning the words. ”

          Given the quality of French pronunciation on major operatic stages, I would hazard to guess this is not as ‘simple’ as you suggest.

        • Regina delle fate

          I think it is also true that Verdi always worked with the original French text when revising Don Carlos for the Italian translation in Italian theatres. But I bow to La Cieca’s obviously in-depth knowledge of this thorny conundrum.

  • Krunoslav

    Well, no one is forcing them to cast the nutjob Marina Polavskaya et al.

    Of course, the Met has one (1) Francophone singer in its upcoming CARMEN, so perhaps they shpul;d be doing that in Italian as well?

    I can’t cite chapter and verse but I do not think you are correct that Verdi preferred the Italian libretto for DON CARLO(S). Even worse is VESPRI, where the tenor addresses the soprano as “O donna” several times…

  • Krunoslav

    Well, no one is forcing them to cast the nutjob Marina Polavskaya et al.

    Of course, the Met has one (1) Francophone singer in its upcoming CARMEN, so perhaps they should be doing that in Italian as well?

    I can’t cite chapter and verse but I do not think you are correct that Verdi preferred the Italian libretto for DON CARLO(S). Even worse is VESPRI, where the tenor addresses the soprano as “O donna” several times…

  • iltenoredigrazia

    According to Andrew Porter Verdi worked on the French libretto while composing Don Carlo. He understood the language and made changes to the libretto just as he did with the Italian ones. The Italian translation came afterwards. In a New Yorker article by Porter many years ago he highlighted several instances where the music and the Italian words didn’t quite go together.

    Is there a basis for saying that Verdi disliked the French language? Never heard that one before.

  • wladek

    Since there is so much talk over original
    or not perception -there is only one
    thought left -how well do the so called artists put this work across to convince us that this is the only way …sadly this second rate Met group do
    not convince .you can lay it all at the
    feet of Levine who has come to believe he is Levine the celebrated conductor . It all barely made average and that is not good enough .Calleja should not be at the Met -he is not good enough a singer
    and bleets like a goat in heat . The rest come to his level and yowl for all they are worth ,and true singing goes out the window .As for ovations, present Met audiences (lowest ever) give ovations when you just pass gass, so it is nothing to go by .It is all so second rate .

  • mrsjohnclaggart

    Verdi, like most Italians in the 19th century (I suggest reading the great, late, John Roselli’s “Opera in 19th century Italy”, a crisp very scholarly book) spoke first a Parmigiana dialect, and then French, and only while living in Milan as a student really came to master literary Italian.

    He took his French librettos VERY seriously, criticizing the pro forma translation commissioned by the cheap Paris impresario who did the “French” Macbeth for its bad grammar and inelegant wording. Verdi set Vepres and Don Carlos carefully and in a masterly fashion, his music sits precisely and elegantly on the French words in both scores. His understanding of musical declamation in French (listen to the King’s aria in its original text)was second to none, including French born composers, several of whom were employed by the Paris Operas during the laborious preparations for Don Carlos (they included Delibes, who supervised the copying of parts).

    The Italian translation of Don Carlos was/is a mess and he was unhappy about it, since it shifted the stresses in his setting to the wrong (weaker) words and is also much cruder than the French text. However, outside of France, there was more of a market for opera in Italian, so Verdi lived with the translation.

    • Arianna a Nasso

      A question for those who know more about this than me: Did Verdi himself prepare, or at least oversee, French language versions of the revisions he made to Don Carlo for Italian houses? Or is the only French version the original one from the Paris premiere? Can we benefit from Verdi’s later musical revisions in an “authentic” French language version?

  • iltenoredigrazia

    Thanks mrsjohnclaggart. That agrees with everything I thought I knew on the subject. No wonder I love you so… :)

  • I have never been to a performance in Amsterdam (opera house or concert hall) where they did not have a standing ovation. It has become a bit of a joke … indeed it actually reminds me of a variation of an old joke. Police Officer: “And can you tell me, sir, what you were doing on the evening of October 27th?” Man being quesrioned: “Ah, yes, I remember it well .. it was the night when they didn’t have a standing ovation at the Concertgebouw”.

  • m. p. arazza

    I think Tommasini deserves some credit for managing to stage some sort of rapprochement between Kaye and Levine. I was amazed to see the two portrayed as practically lovey-dovey, after Kaye’s recent pronouncements — not just “Balderdash,” but statements like “it is admirable that Maestro Levine can prepare new scores by Gunther Schuller and Elliot Carter, and (his recent serious health issues aside) shocking that for years maestro Levine has refused to restudy HOFFMANN … the affront to scholarship …” (etc. etc.)
    Maybe Tommasini’s piece does give hope for their future collaboration.

  • iltenoredigrazia

    Andrew Porter has been credited (or taken credit) for finding some music in the 1960’s that was not included in the French premiere. I believe that music was added when the RHO produced Don Carlos in French a few years ago.

    My recollection is that Levine claimed to have included some not-heard-before music in the first act of the current Met’s production. (Vaguely remember it having to do with the chorus at the beginning of the Fontainebleau scene.)

    • Alto

      “Andrew Porter has been credited (or taken credit)”

      That parenthetical slam is nasty and unnecessary. This was one of the most important discoveries in Verdi studies by one of the people best-equipped to appreciate and elucidate its significance, and it does not deserve a snide remark.

  • iltenoredigrazia

    I also heard many years ago a recording in French where Eboli was told to leave the country or go to a nunnery by Posa and not by the Queen. I remember it well because I liked the way that instructing someone else to deal with Eboly added to the Queen’s regality. I don’t remember seeing this in any of the productions I’ve seen. Was that part of a different version?

    • Ercole Farnese

      In the original French version it is the Count of Lerma who gives Eboli the choice. He enters the stage after the confrontation between Eboli and Elizabeth, who had a full fledged duet, which was cut right before opening night. I saw a Turin production (in French) in 1990 with Lerma instructing Eboli.

  • mrsjohnclaggart

    I think Andy Porter (who used to bring bewildered looking pick ups to the Met press room dressed in full leather) found ms in the Paris Opera back men’s room and connected it with the ur-Don Carlos (why he was clutching at the old bricks therein has never been explained). Verdi cut almost an hour before the first night. He had been informed that the last trains for the suburbs from Paris would leave before the opera was over prompting an early stampede. I believe there is still some controversy over exactly what was included on opening night, and what might have been cut or changed during the first run.

    Above, I didn’t mean all Italians spoke the dialect of Parma, Verdi did, but those born elsewhere spoke local dialects and usually French. Literary Italian was actually a foreign language to many. Da Ponte’s family for example spoke only a Judeo-Venetian dialect but after all converted, changing their family name to the name of the Bishop who converted them he, aged 11 (!) laboriously taught himself literary Italian so he could read Dante. However he did use a Venetian pronunciation with friends which turned harmless looking Italian works into double-entendres (Harnoncourt has a chart for Cosi, showing which words when twisted slightly become very dirty indeed, Guglielmo’s first act aria is evidently a riot of obscenity).

    I believe the long opening chorus was first given in full at the Met. I could be wrong that Verdi cut this for the first performance in Bologna, I believe he did, but it did exist in an Italian translation. Earlier attempts at an Italian five act version either cut a big section of it, or omitted it.

    • MontyNostry

      That’s fascinating about the doubles entendres in Così. They might make the piece a bit more interesting (though I love Come scoglio, preferably sung by Margaret Price).