Offenbach’s Les Contes d’Hoffmann–A Good Filming, a Great Performance

shicoff_tales_of_hoffmannThe 2002 performance of Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann at the Opera National de Paris, Bastille, released on DVD in 2004, is a masterful performance of a masterwork by a master composer.

Conducted by Jesus Lopez-Cobos, the part of Hoffmann is sung by the tenor Neil Shicoff and the parts of Offenbach’s multiple villains are played by the bass-baritone Bryn Terfel. These artists are magnificent in their roles, both when they sing apart and when they sing together.

This recording is risqué, exuberant, exciting, and full of life. Offenbach would have loved it. It makes a spectacular art movie. In fact, it’s so good, I rank it as the best performance of one of the best operas ever written. It’s a wow!

The production, singing, acting, dancing, direction, screenplay, sets, scenery, staging, lighting, costumes, and color photography are brilliant; they’re exciting; they turn you on. Makeup is not overdone. Words are clearly pronounced and easy to understand. Audio quality is outstanding.

The camera work is outstanding, too; it’s much like what you are used to seeing in a well-directed movie. It’s so skillful that it captures the performance’s greatness without getting in the way.

Clever and astute direction generates wide and narrow shots depending on what the action and content call for; cuts, blends, fades, dissolves, and other transitions gracefully exchange frontal, lateral, top, back, and rear camera views while the performance is underway; shots are perfectly timed and look from optimum camera angles; singers stare straight into the lens or look aside depending on what the director needs; cameras help separate and demark scenes. All this demonstrates that technical skill with cameras has a lot to do with the success of a performance art movie and that high caliber camera work is feasible in an opera.

Even the audience contributes and responds to the performance by minding its own business; it doesn’t interfere except to announce its approbation with brief spurts of applause at the most strategic moments.

But notice that this movie is not great because it’s great cinema; it’s great because it’s a great art performance. This filming is not a high expression of the motion picture art, it’s a high expression of operatic art that’s not spolied by inept filming.

2011, Decision Consulting, Inc. (DCI). All rights reserved. All copies must include this copyright statement.

This entry was posted in Arts Criticism, Composer, Film, General, Music, Opera and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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