The Tales of Hoffmann at the Bregenz Festival

Xl_image © Bregenzer Festspiele Karl Forster

It is an artistic concept of the Norwegian director Stefan Herheim which converts the traditional perceptions of a play. It is his way of a very intelligent nearly limitless presentation of the reconstruction of a piece. He shows in Hoffmann a man, who deconstructs himself, looking for his identity in his tales, which we all thought to know so far. Stefan Herheim further develops his radical concept by analysing the composer and the time of creation.

Having said so, it is easier to follow the evening with ever changing genders and moving locations. We experience all characters either in elegant male evening gowns or female underwear with corset and suspenders. Even Hoffmann's three admired Ladies as well as Stella follow this concept and Giuletta is not even a person of its own on stage.
Only two singers cover those roles. Kerstin Avemo and Mandy Fredrich do match with their voices those roles and the director's interpretation. Bright in clear high up, modest in the lower parts. The overall concept makes the presentation a kind of a gala evening in a French style show like at the Lido. Women in dark pinguin jackets, stockings and high heels open the performance. The appearence of Stella as twofold a blond superstar as well as a fallen transvestite and half naked.
Suddenly there is rumor in the audience and Michael Volle as Lindorf complains about the gaystyle show and hops on stage. He cleverly integrates in the play. He is the star of the evening in a fantastic presentation of the four dark characters of the tales. He appears in whatever costumes and disguises as female underwear or golden glitter dresses, and he sings warm, full of a romantic and lyric tone.
Daniel Johansson is a young Swedish tenor, tall and good looking. He makes Hoffmann a persuading character, a little bit clumsy to women and undecided, young and wild. His voice is strong but inflexible and dry. As there is so much to pay attention to on stage and to follow the plot, one has to remind himself to be in an opera and listen to the music, which is actually very well presented by Johannes Debus, leading the Vienna Symphonic orchestra. He is vivid, moving forward, and keeps tension. Following the show effect on stage, he avoids legati or melancholic ritardandi. The music is present and just flows into the scenery on stage.

It is a very entertaining evening as well as a psychological mirror on our society. Ambivalent, undecided keeping all options open and loosing proper identies. It shows fear and passion packed in superficial brightness and excessive lifestyle. The audience follows and grants a very hearty applause to orchestra and the singers.

Helmut Pitsch

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