|Jacques Offenbach: Les Contes d'Hoffmann
Raoul Jobin, tenor, (Hoffman), Ren╚e Doria, soprano, (Olympia), Vina Bovy, soprano, (Giulietta), Geori Bou╚, soprano, (Antonia), Fanely Revoil, mezzo-soprano (Nicklausse), Louis Musy, bass (Lindorf), Andr╚ Pernet, bass (Copp╚lius), Charles Soix, (baritone) Dapertutto, Roger Bourdin, baritone (Le Docteur Miracle), Bourvil, comedian (Andr╦s, Cochenille, Pitichinaccio, Frantz). Chorus and Orchestra of the Th╚âtre National de L'Op╚ra-Comique, Andr╚ Cluytens, Conductor.
Preiser 20004 (2 Discs). (M) (AAD) TT: 2:10:11
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As part of its mid-priced "Paperback Opera" series Preiser has reissued the first commercial recording of Offenbach's Les Contes d'Hoffmann. Recorded in Paris in 1948 with the forces of the Op╚ra-Comique and a cast of French singers, this Hoffmann is by far the most idiomatic on records. It is also one of those rare recordings that radiates the aura of an actual performance. Each of the singers performs with total commitment. The sparkling direction of Andr╚ Cluytens provides charm and a constant sense of inexorable momentum. The delightful use of sound effects throughout adds to the theatricality of this production.
French-Canadian tenor Raoul Jobin never possessed a sensuously beautiful voice. Nevertheless he was a singer of considerable strengths. His rock-solid technique allows him to surmount without difficulty the considerable vocal challenges of Offenbach's title character. Jobin's technical mastery, coupled with a passionate, dramatic involvement and crystal-clear declamation of the French text, make him the finest Hoffmann on records. He is superbly partnered during his adventures by mezzo-soprano Fanely Revoil, a vibrant and quite humorous Nicklausse.
Hoffmann's three love interests are superbly performed by leading French sopranos of the era. Ren╚ Doria sings the stratospheric role of the doll Olympia with technical aplomb and fetching vocal quality. Vina Bovy is a seductive Giulietta and Geori Bou╚ is an uncommonly touching Antonia, tender in her scene with Hoffmann, heroic in her final moments. Again, the pointed enunciation of the text and ease of French style belongs to an era that is sadly long gone.
Hoffmann's four nemeses are also performed in the distinctive French style. Each of the singersLouis Musy, Andr╚ Pernet, Charles Soix, and Roger Bourdinpossesses a lighter timbre than what we might expect today. Nevertheless each makes a telling impression through subtle vocal coloration and inflection of the text. The comic roles of Andr╦s, Cochenille, Pitichinaccio, and Frantz are usually assigned to comprimario tenors. Here they are sung by the popular French comedian Bourvil. With the merest wisp of a voice (and a rather scratchy wisp at that!), Bourvil produces four unforgettable characterizations.
This Hoffmann was recorded late in the 78 rpm era. While the recording balance favors the voices, orchestral detail is not obscured. French EMI reissued this on CD in 1994. Unlike the case of the recent Naxos remasterings of the classic Werther and Samson recordings, I don't find the Presier Hoffmann to be a noticeable improvement over the French EMI. If you already own that set, I don't see much need to acquire the Preiser. However, the French EMI set may currently be difficult to acquire. This Preiser issue affords the best opportunity to enjoy a glorious rendition of Offenbach's final work. No texts, translations, or essays. The set provides only a listing of the cast and CD tracks. (Editor Comment: This same performance has since been issued at budget price on Naxos - 8.110214/15 in a superb transfer by Ward Marston)
Excerpts from the 1948 Hoffmann also comprise five of the nineteen tracks included on the Presier CD devoted to Raoul Jobin. The recordings on this CD, all sung in French, are from the years 1946-48. Jobin, then in his early 40s, was in prime voice. All of the selections provide great pleasure, including a rendition of the"Forging song" from Wagner's Siegfried that is among the best I've ever heard. The transfers are quite fine.
K.M. (Dec. 2000)