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When The Tales were first performed (some of the music had been adapted to the Requiem text as appropriate background to the composer's funeral), Giulietta and her gondola came next, as happens here. But Offenbach placed Antonia central. It is a matter of nice judgement where the most heart-searching music should be most properly placed. But who could complain of a triptych with the magical barcarolle as essential core? Alas that Bilbao has no Grand Canal or gondola to ply it. But Valentina Kutzarova's attendants provide an optical illusion of rippling water quite convincing enough to turn Hoffmann's head [watch and listen -- DVD 2 chapter 1, 0:27-1:53].

Valentina Kutzarova (Giulietta) and Aquiles Machado (Hoffmann). DVD screenshot © 2006 Opus Arte/ABAO
Valentina Kutzarova (Giulietta) and Aquiles Machado (Hoffmann). DVD screenshot © 2006 Opus Arte/ABAO

Konstantin Gorny comes into his own and a bit more as Dr Miracle, accused by the luckless Crespel of having caused his wife's death and now about to destroy the daughter Antonia. It is of course impossible for an operatic heroine not to sing, unless she happens to be the Kundry of Parsifal Act 3, and Antonia, urged on by the sinister Miracle, by Hoffmann at the piano and her mother's ghost, can do nothing but fulfil her destiny and collapse in the mounting splendour of a consumptive aria [watch and listen -- DVD 2 chapter 23, 70:56-72:22]. Again Hoffmann is dogged by disaster, and it is in this scene that Offenbach, indeed at the end of his tether, proves himself the superb opera composer that might have been.

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Copyright © 13 June 2007 Robert Anderson, London UK

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