Nous avons un poète étranger parmi nous.

Few operas present as complicated a musicological challenge as Offenbach’s Les Contes d’Hoffmann. “Trove Thursday” wades into these murky waters with a broadcast of the Michael Kaye/Jean-Christophe Keck edition (so I’m told) featuring Sonya Yoncheva, Michèle Losier, John Osborn, Laurent Naouri and Jean-Paul Fouchécourt with Marc Minkowski conducting his period-instrument ensemble Les Musiciens du Louvre. 

Performances featuring a single soprano performing the roles of Hoffmann’s loves can be a relatively rare phenomenon. A more common one features a star prima donna agreeing to appear as all four and then changing her mind and backing out of Olympia and Giulietta and “settling” for Antonia (and Stella). This occurred with Anna Netrebko at the Met in 2009 and again just recently with Diana Damrau in San Francisco.

Today’s concert performance, I believe, was to have been Natalie Dessay’s first stab at the four followed by Laurent Pelly’s staging in 2013 in both Barcelona (where she was joined by both Losier and her husband) and San Francisco. True to the pattern she chose to appear as Antonia only in those two cities.

It would seem that a multi-sopranos approach wasn’t what Minkowski wanted for this much-anticipated gala performance at the Pleyel so, in one of the first of many such rescues, Yoncheva was called in for what some dubbed a “star-making” performance. While she had won Operalia two years earlier, hers was not yet a well-known name at the time. When she again tackled Hoffmann recently at Covent Garden, she too sang just Antonia.

While Osborn might be best known for his Italian bel canto heroes, he’s lately been making news in the 19th century French repertoire—Auber’s Fra Diavolo, Meyerbeer’s Le Prophète, Berlioz’s Benvenuto Cellini, and Halévy’s La Juive (as Léopold), in addition to Donizetti’s La Favorite and Rossini’s Guillaume Tell, although he sang first Arnold in New York in Italian.

His recent solo CD “A Tribute to Gilbert Duprez” includes arias from several of these above-mentioned works.

Although Minkowski and his Les Musiciens du Louvre are best known for their baroque endeavors, they are old-hands at Offenbach having performed several of the composer’s best-known operettas for well-received CDs and DVDs, including Orphée aux Enfers (with Dessay and Naouri) and La Belle Hélène, as well as La Grande-duchesse de Gérolstein, the latter two starring a delightfully game Dame Felicity Lott.

There’s also an Anne-Sofie von Otter CD of arias and ensembles and a collection of orchestral excerpts from the operettas and ballets.

Minkowski and his band are still at it having just last month presented La Périchole in concert at the Salzburg Pfingsten Festival with the exotically named Aude Extrémo in the title role and much-discussed young French tenor Benjamin Bernheim as her Piquillo.

The bicentenary of Offenbach’s birth arrives next year celebrated by lots of performances of Hoffmann and his operettas including an exhumation of Maître Péronilla in Paris starring France’s most devoted explorer of the obscure, Véronique Gens. Several of his short works may find their way to “Trove Thursday” also.

Those more knowledgeable than I about the Kaye/Keck Hoffmann (e.g., everyone) which here runs around three hours and ten minutes, please chime in!

Offenbach: Les Contes d’Hoffmann
Michael Kaye/Jean-Christophe Keck edition
Salle Pleyel, Paris
22 November 2012

Sonya Yoncheva — Olympia/Antonia/Giulietta/Stella
Michèle Losier — La Muse/Nicklausse
Sylvie Brunet — La voix de la Mère
John Osborn — Hoffmann
Laurent Naouri — Lindorf/Coppelius/Miracle/Dapertutto
Jean-Paul Fouchécourt — Andres/Cochenille/Franz/Pitichinaccio
Éric Huchet — Spalanzani
Laurent Alvaro — Luther/Crespel
Marc Mauillon — Hermann/Schlémil
Julien Behr — Nathanaël

Ensemble Aedes
Les Musiciens du Louvre Grenoble
Marc Minkowski – conductor

Hoffmann can be downloaded by clicking on the icon of a square with an arrow pointing downward on the audio player and the resulting mp3 file will appear in your download directory.

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