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Jacques OFFENBACH (1819-1880)
Hoffmanns Erzählungen (Les contes d’Hoffmann) - Fantasic Opera in five acts [150:47]
Hoffmann – Siegfried Jerusalem (tenor); Olympia – Jeanette Scovotti (soprano); Giuletta – Norma Sharp (soprano); Antonia – Julia Varady (soprano); Andreas, Cochenille, Pitttichinaccio, Franz – Friedrich Lenz (tenor); Lindorf, Coppelius, Dapertutto, Mirakel – Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (baritone); Niklaus, The Muse – Ilse Gramatzki (mezzo); Voice of Antonia’s mother – Hanna Schwarz (mezzo-soprano); Stella – Gisela Schunk (soprano); Crespel – Kurt Moll (bass)
Chorus of Bavarian Radio; Munich Radio Orchestra/Heinz Wallberg
rec. March 1979, Bavarian Radio, Munich
no text or translations included
EMI CLASSICS 50999 9 12305 2 2 [79:10 + 71:37]

Here is a fascinating issue. It is Hoffmann in the form that it was once always known and performed, that is, it uses the edition prepared by Ernest Guiraud after the composer’s death; he performed a similar service for Carmen with equally dubious results. In recent years other editions have been appearing which attempt to show more accurately what the composer’s intentions may have been. That by Fritz Oeser, published in 1977, soon established itself and it will soon be followed by one from Jean-Christophe Keck and Michael Kaye. Both make use of a vast array of new material but inevitably even then many subjective decisions have to be taken. It is simply not possible to be entirely sure as to how the composer might have completed his final version of the opera. The edition used by Wallberg was that which held the stage for about a hundred years. It has many merits, especially if the final scene is extended to include the appearance of the Muse as is done here. Its major defect is the reversal of the Giuletta and Antonia Acts. The listener could simply play these parts of the discs in reverse order which would to a degree get over this problem.
In many ways the most fascinating aspect of this issue is the language. I am a firm believer in the audience being able to understand the text as it is sung without the distancing effect of surtitles or subtitles or having to follow a printed libretto. I must then applaud a version in the vernacular of the recording company (Electrola) and obviously intended for the German-speaking market. This might be expected however to count against it for anyone with only limited understanding of German. In the event the result is surprisingly enjoyable, due largely to the excellent vocal characterisation and use of words by the majority of the cast. Siegfried Jerusalem and, unsurprisingly, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau are especially notable in this. Each combines a voice of rare beauty with convincing vocal acting. The result is certainly very different from what can be achieved with the French text. The humorous aspects of the opera scarcely register but it does mean that there is a real sense of a dramatic whole, to which the conducting of Heinz Wallberg and the sometimes heavy orchestra and chorus adds significantly.
No one recording of this opera of all operas is likely to satisfy in every respect. This is clearly a set that will appeal outside German-speaking countries largely to those who already know the opera well from other performances and recordings. For such listeners, however, it offers real rewards. It is no mere curiosity but an interesting and valid approach to the work which forms a valuable supplement to other versions.
John Sheppard