Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

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More Tales Of The City

December 31, 2009

Kate Lindsey in Sher's staging of Hoffmann
Photo: Ken Howard/Met Opera 2009

On Wednesday I arrived at The Metropolitan Opera to see the new Bartlett Sher production of Offenbach’s Les Contes d’Hoffmann to discover that the star tenor playing Hoffmann, Joseph Calleja, had called in sick and would be replaced by Canadian tenor David Pomeroy in his Met Opera debut. Now many people might have found this distressing, but I was not necessarily one of them. I knew nothing of Pomeroy other than the general disparaging remarks one reads about all living singers in the comments sections of Parterre Box. On the other hand, I do know something about Calleja. While he’s gotten good reviews for his performance of Hoffmann in this production, my own personal experiences seeing him perform have been highly variable, but trending toward the unremarkable. So I can’t say I was totally bummed out or anything. And after hearing Mr. Pomeroy tonight, I can’t say that he was any worse than I would have predicted Calleja might have been given my prior exposure to him. Pomeroy was certainly able to sing the part and finished the evening without unraveling. He may not have the size or warmth Calleja has, but from where I sat he was not at all unpleasant and for stepping in to this big role for his debut, I’d go so far as to say it was a pretty solid performance.

That consideration aside, this Hoffman was certainly a reasonable if not completely satisfying evening at the opera. Sher’s production is a bit timid. Sher blends in a variety of Kafkaesque and even German Expressionist elements. It’s dark with rather elaborate costumes, but the sets tend toward the monotone. There are a lot of visual elements that are momentarily interesting to look at, but I never felt that the whole thing went far enough. This is one wild and phantasmagorical opera and while the production is aware of this, it doesn’t really reach for anything as far afield as it might have, even though it was certainly dressed for the occasion. Think warmed over Baz Luhrmann. But all that being said, at least it had a modern look about it. Despite this Hoffmann’s shortcomings, it still looks better than the museum pieces that still make up a too high percentage of the Metropolitan Opera’s schedule throughout the year. Heaven knows I’d rather see this again than sit through another round of something outright laughable such as the current Aida or Turandot.

The rest of the cast on Wednesday all made it in, and there were a number of enjoyable vocal performances. Kathleen Kim’s Olympia seemed relaxed and surprisingly strong. Netrebko seemed a good fit for Antonia and came through in the acting department as she usually does. She still generates a lot of excitement on the stage. Alan Held’s villains were all on target. I think I was most partial, however, to Kate Lindsey’s Nicklausse who haunts the stage throughout this whole evening in male drag, infusing the thing with a little melancholy. She sang splendidly and gave the most emotionally connected turn in the whole opera. John Keenan conducted the orchestra in one of his scheduled nights covering for James Levine who is still on tap to return for Saturday’s closing performance.

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Ahaha, generally disparging remarks at parterre box! You mean about currently active singers, I presume: plenty of the participants are still in a lather, in a good way, over Scotto, Olivero, Bumbry, etc.
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