Woof!

By LLOYD SCHWARTZ  |  November 13, 2008

In 1992, Boston Lyric Opera based its production on a new scholarly edition by Michael Kaye, and a somewhat freer version (including Dapertutto’s Diamond Aria, the best Offenbach song not actually written by Offenbach) is what the team of stage director Renaud Doucet and designer André Barbe have just returned to (at the Shubert Theatre, through November 18), following Offenbach’s original sequence: Hoffmann’s infatuation with the mechanical doll Olympia, then the tubercular Antonia, and finally the Venetian courtesan Giulietta. Not everything works. The Venetian scene is too cluttered (with moving bridges!); the voice of Antonia’s dead mother emerges from a statue so gigantic it dwarfs her voice. But this is the rare and admirable production in which every detail contributes to one large overarching concept, the idea that if Hoffmann is an artist, his love life must finally be secondary to his art. So tenor Matthew DiBattista here appears as Offenbach himself, sometimes in the guise of a minor character, to watch over the events. And vivid mezzo-soprano Michèle Losier, the best singer in the cast, is both Hoffmann’s best friend, Niklausse, and his Muse — much more important in Offenbach’s original idea than in later revisions.

The acting is, on the whole, more persuasive than the singing is elegant. Soprano Georgia Jarman is a hilarious mechanical vixen, yet as the frail Antonia she sometimes belts when her voice ought to melt. Baritone Gaétan Laperrière gives each villain a distinct personality. Tenor Gerard Powers is a compelling Hoffmann with power in climaxes he doesn’t always expend elsewhere. The chorus clearly relishes its many opportunities. And Keith Lockhart conducts with energy, sometimes at the expense of the singers — and the sparkling music doesn’t always sparkle.

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