The Tales of Hoffmann. Four stories settled in one musical reality. Moreover, an opera fantastique, full of contradictions and action changes. Shadowy characters, mystery and an emotional outburst. The great challenge for the performers as well as for the director. How to tell the story in a way to make it “fresh”, actual, not to destroy the “fairytale –world”, but to show the hidden meaning, Offenbach’s message.
There is the answer, in Poland, in Kraków Opera production, directed by Michał Znaniecki. Here the audience has a chance to go through Hoffman’s memories. The vision is clear: Hoffman (Dominik Sutowicz) as an alcohol-addicted man, the Muse (Irina Zhytynska), who changes into Nicklausse- his guardian and guide as well as a person longing for his love and affection. Lindorf, Coppelius, Doctor Miracle, Dapertutto (Grzegorz Szostak)- Hoffman’s seducers, working like a hunger (alcohol), trying to destroy his reality. And finally three woman of Hoffman’s life (Marcelina Beucher), who occur to be one- Stella, as a part of Hoffman’s memories, or even- (post alcohol) hallucinations.
Znaniecki tries to show the world of the alcoholic trauma. But the alcohol addiction is not the only one point of this performance. Znaniecki creates the world of nearby future. He took the effort of getting to know the Hoffman’s original idea- to create the futuristic, even shocking world. But the point is- E.A. Hoffman’s “future” is nowadays our present. So Znaniecki takes a step further- Olimpia as a mechanic doll, like Diva Plavalaguna from 5th Element. The mother of other woman, the base, basic creation. Unreachable for Hoffman, closed in a high capsule. She changes, from mechanical, strong, strict robot to seductive, sensual woman. One more Offenbach’s symbol. Olimpia as a first Hoffmann’s love -woman as a submissive doll. Beucher made this particular role, with one of the hardests coloratura parts, a really convincing one. Her coloratura was clear and florid and the character- fulfilled with great acting. In Olympia’s scene the visual effects (Bogumił Palewicz) take the viewer to the future laboratory, in which the futuristic doctor makes his experiments using the multimedial screens and 3D glasses. Then, moving to the world of Antonia, one can see the modern museum, in which there is an exhibition about singing and Antonia’s mother. Franz (Adam Sobierajski) plays the vocal game (getting the round of great aplause for his grotesque and funny performance), Antonia listening to her mother’s voice through the headphones. Maria Callas screened behind her. And here Antonia’s tragedy takes part. The love duet, full of emotional outbursts. From passion, through the real, great love, till the longing and fear. Sutowicz and Beucher had a great sound, their voices blend together beautifully in O Dieu! de quelle ivresse. Antonia as an another Hoffman’s desire. After a doll, now- woman as an Artist, with passion, a little bit oversensitive. And there is the last (almost) one – Giulietta.. Giulietta as an “old” courtesan, kind of imagination, the “pose”, costume. And here one of the most recognizable duets- Barcarolla. Mysterious, romantic and delicate. And the last Hoffman’s love- Stella. Here one could see the strict, distingue woman, so different from the previous heroines. Stella as a star, admired by a crowd, unreachable. The Hoffman’s ideal…
Znaniecki, once more, invites the viewer to see the character’s world not only through the music and staging, but through the world of symbols too. He provokes the viewer to look for the hidden meanings. And there are plenty of them. One is the color. Blue color. Which appears whenever the new Hoffmann’s love appears. Creating the world of mystery, the most “clear” pictures of Hoffman’s memories. Then the red color. Color of desire, but of fear, Pain and hesitation too. Like in the scene with Giulietta and old courtesanes, dancing really out of tune- one more grotesque part. Like if the director was asking the viewer- look what happened with this “love”. Another symbol, also in Giulietta’s world- a siren. But sitting in a glass of wine. Siren as a symbol of seduction. A glass of wine…? One more question. Going forward, In every act there are four light cubes at the stage. Changing colors. Hoffman’s love symbol, Hoffman’s thoughts, cube as a human’s fate. And one more symbol- Muse changing into Nicklaus. Undressing at the stage and covering Hoffmann with her dress. The moment of devotion…
The performance had impressive vocal parts too. Like Olimpia’s aria, Franz’s couplets, or Hoffman’s parts. Sutowicz’s voice sounded light, accurate and strong in the opening Il ètait une fois à la cour d’Eisenach, changing into delicate, lyrical Ah! vivre deux! and passionate Amis, l’amour tendre et rêveur. The person, gaining the round of applause too, was Muse/Nicklaus sung by Irina Zhytynska. Audience cherished not only her great acting skills, but her singing too. All of her parts sounded full, original voice, careful phrasing and were in a good tempo. The same was with Chorus, sounded in appropriate mood and tempo, as well.
Everything together created the visually and musically consistent artistic vision. But not only vision. It was Hoffman’s future of nowadays world, full of contradicted emotions, colors, movement (Diana Theocharidis) and visual effects, settled in interesting and impressive scenography (Luigi Scoglio). Hoffmann as an alcohol addicted, abandoned by everyone, having only a Muse by his side. An artist fated for loneliness. Artist, but only a human being, with feelings, urge to discovering. A Human trying to fully live his life. And here may be the Offenbach’s grotesque truth and hidden message.