English National Opera’s new production of Offenbach's The Tales of Hoffmann will be memorable ultimately for its glorious singing, and not least from Barry Banks in the title role. While entertaining his drinking buddies with the delightful, if cruel, song about Kleinzach the dwarf, Hoffmann becomes distracted by a picture of Stella, the dancer. He feels she embodies qualities of his past loves, Olympia, Antonia and Giulietta, and starts recalling their stories.
Georgia Jarman, making an impressive UK debut, fully inhabits all four of these heroines, imbuing each with distinct characteristics. The dazzle of Olympia, the sensuousness of Giulietta, and the human frailty and courage of Antonia are all there in this remarkable performance. Olympia and Giulietta are linked to familiar tunes (the Doll Song and the Barcarolle), but Antonia, the consumptive singer, is the revelation as the strong willed woman locked away and, without explanation, forbidden to sing.
Clive Bayley is fantastically oleaginous as the evil mastermind, Counsellor Lindorf, and his three avatars Coppelius, Dr Miracle and Dapertutto. It would almost be worth attending just to hear the delightful Christine Rice as Nicklausse, Hoffmann’s muse, whose voice is acquiring some thrilling darker hues. Graham Danby and Simon Butteriss also deserve mention for their excellent singing in multiple supporting roles.
Richard Jones's production is not as revelatory as some of his other work. The similarity of the sets points to the repeated patterns of Hoffmann's romances, but little further insight is offered into what is a perennially gripping but problematic story. Questions remain unanswered, and potential parallels (such as between Nicklausse and Lindorf) go unexplored. Sacrificing exotic spectacle is no bad thing, but here perhaps too little is gained in return. Nevertheless, to hear such an outstanding cast perform those ever-hummable tunes, a visit to The Tales of Hoffmann comes highly recommended. (Nik Dasgupta)
Until 10 March (nine performances) with start times of 18:00 or 19:00. Tickets: 0871 911 0200 or from the ENO website.
Photo: The death of Hoffmann's second love, Antonia, is one of the most moving moments in Richard Jones's The Tales of Hoffmann, © Chris Christodoulou.