STARRY CAST YIELDS AN ENTERTAINING RECORDING
L. Mitnick | Chicago, Illinois United States | 08/04/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"There will be many out there who will vehemently disagree with my rating this recording with four stars, but I've always found it fun and completely enjoyable. For starters, there are so many different versions of this opera that have been recorded, that it all becomes very confusing. Some versions incorporate arias and couplets that others delete, while others put Acts II and III in reverse order. This 1965 EMI recording is very traditional in the sense that it is presented in the way people were used to hearing the opera performed until very recently. Andre Cluytens made somewhat of a speciality of this opera, having eighteen years earlier recorded a wonderful performance under the aegis of the Opera Comique (it may still be available on EMI---Raoul Jobin was the tenor) which is still highly regarded, despite the limited monophonic 1948 sonics. Of course, this 1965 EMI version has much superior sound (of course in stereo). Whether or not Cluytens surpasses his earlier effort is a matter for the individual listener to decide. What IS spectacular here is the cast. Nicolai Gedda was EMI's star lyric tenor throughout from around 1958 to 1968, and he did some beautiful work for them. His Hoffmann is youthful, beautifully sung, enunciated beautifully, and his performance is altogether on the level of those of Placido Domingo, Alfredo Kraus, and Neil Shicoff (three very different tenors who later also made magic of this wonderful tenor role). George London was a highly regarded bass-baritone, and it's good to have him undertaking the two important roles of Coppelius and Dr. Miracle. He was an artist with a great vocal personality and though he is heard here a little late in his career, he is still well worth hearing, especially in these two roles. When it came to sopranos, EMI had the unique and enviable position of holding exclusive contracts with the three arguably greatest sopranos in the world - Maria Callas, Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, and Victoria de los Angeles, and they found the opportunity, for this particular recording anyway, to cast Schwarzkopf as Giulietta and de los Angeles as Antonia. Neither soprano is completely ideal for her respective role, and neither is heard here in their very best voice. Oh, make no mistake - they're good, but knowing what they were capable of, one feels that they could have been better. Schwarzkopf is actually singing a mezzo role here, and her voice is certainly able to encompass the role, but one realizes that she was in her 50th year, and vocally perhaps a shade past her best singing days. Victoria de los Angeles was an equally great soprano, and she sounds very beautiful in the middle and lower portions of her voice, which was nevertheless by this time taxed by the highest reaches of Antonia's role (the pivotal top C sharp at the end of her act bears this out), which is not an easy one. By the way, neither Schwarzkopf or de los Angeles ever sang these roles onstage, and of course, no one would have expected them to (Maria Callas, in her absolute prime, could probably have undertaken all three of them in one evening!). Gianna d'Angelo showed a lot of potential in the 1960's (which apparently wasn't realized) and she sings a good Olympia, though I believe she eschews the top E flat at the end of the Doll Aria (which Joan Sutherland, of course, tosses off like it's nothing!)
Still, it's gratifying and fun to hear all these star singers together in this highly traditional "Hoffmann", and I doubt very much whether anyone who loves these singers will feel they they didn't get their money's worth. This recording was not universally applauded when it was first released, but today, when we realize how few star singers we have in our midst, it's been somewhat re-evaluated. Tastes change with the decades, and sometimes recordings need to be revisited, and accordingly, opinions can and frequently change over the years."
LES CONTES D'HOFFMAN
Lauretta Ysais | ARLINGTON, VA United States | 08/13/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"BEST RECORDING AVAILABLE. THE CAST AND CONDUCTOR, THE BEST. I HAVE BEEN WAITING FOR THIS CD FOR OVER 20 YEARS."
Improving with time
Eduardo Villanueva | Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic | 07/17/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I first bought the LP version of this "Tales of Hoffmann" when it came out in the 1960s, and even though I enjoyed it, I had many reservations about the performances of Schwarzkopf, de los Angeles, and George London. Forty years later, I realize that those great three artists have only a few shaky moments, but the rest is outstandingly passionate and fascinating. With the first-rate performances by Gedda, D'Angelo, Ghiuselev, Blanc, Senechal, and the luminous conducting of André Cluytens, this is my favorite "Tales" from beginning to end. The sound is excellent.
Eduardo Villanueva (Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic)"