The Met's new production of Offenbach's Les Contes d'Hoffmann, conducted by Music Director James Levine and directed by Tony Award winner Bartlett Sher, premieres on December 3. Joseph Calleja sings the title role for the first time in his career, and Anna Netrebko adds new roles to her Met repertoire as both Antonia and Stella. Also making role debuts are Kathleen Kim as Olympia, Ekaterina Gubanova as Giulietta, and Kate Lindsey as Nicklausse/The Muse. Alan Held, who has tackled all four villain roles before, reprises this feat in the new production. Set designer Michael Yeargan and costume designer Catherine Zuber, both Tony Award-winners who worked with Sher on his acclaimed Met production of IL Barbiere di Siviglia, are also on the production team for the new Les Contes d'Hoffmann. James F. Ingalls joins them as the lighting designer, and the choreography is by Dou Dou Huang, who made his Met debut as the choreographer and lead dancer for Tan Dun's The First Emperor. John Keenan conducts on December 23, 26, and 30. Performances run through January 2, and the December 19 matinee will be the season's fourth transmission in The Met: Live in HD series seen in movie theaters around the world.
Sher, whose Met debut production of IL Barbiere di Siviglia has been an audience favorite since it opened in 2006, creates the new staging for Offenbach's final masterpiece, which he calls "a magical journey in which the title character works out different manifestations of his psyche...The opera is often approached in terms of the crazy imagination of Hoffmann," Sher says, referring to the early German romantic polymath whose stories are used for the opera's episodic plot. "I'm more interested in why Offenbach, who had been a very popular operetta composer, was seeking to write a serious work to gain acceptance. Why, so late in his career, did he feel this need to be accepted? That led me to consider Offenbach's sense of being Jewish and an outsider. Whatever group he was in, he always appears as an outsider who never feels like he belongs, never feels like he's connected." The ambiguities and split identities of the characters figure in Sher's vision of the piece. "For any artist, ambition and paranoia are both always present. The door keeps opening and there are many Hoffmanns, identities that keep overlapping. I think the real artistic dilemma for Offenbach is the tension between the cover and the internal state, and that's what I hope to try to show."
Offenbach died before a definitive score for Les Contes d'Hoffmann was established, though he left many sketches of possible additions and replacements which have led to different performing versions over the years. The Met production will use the same version that was used in the most recent revival, in 1999-2000, with the Olympia act first, followed by the Antonia act, then Giulietta placed third. Maestro Levine says of the musical version, "The music is so inspired, and I think we have made effective choices in the absence of an authentic, fully realized original version, using a great deal of the information that has come to light over the years."
About the Performers
Kathleen Kim makes her role debut as Olympia, the mechanical doll, in the new production of Les Contes d'Hoffmann. She appeared in two operas at the Met last season, as Papagena in Die Zauberflöte and the First Sprite in Rusalka. She made her company debut in 2007 as Barbarina in Le Nozze di Figaro and later that season performed Oscar in Un Ballo in Maschera. The American soprano is a recent graduate of the Ryan Opera Center, the young artist's program at the Lyric Opera of Chicago. Her repertoire also includes Armida in Handel's Rinaldo (Central City Opera), Blonde in Die Entführung aus dem Serail (Minnesota Opera), Marie in La Fille du Régiment (Bilbao Opera), and Madame Mao Tse-tung in Nixon in China (Chicago Opera Theatre).
When Anna Netrebko sang Antonia at the Mariinsky Theater, the critic in the St. Petersburg Times wrote that "her captivating performance was the genuine highlight of the production. Her tormented Antonia, suffering over the paths she had to choose, was pierced with despair." The star Russian soprano returns for the first time this season, adding the roles of Antonia and Stella in Les Contes d'Hoffmann to her repertoire with the company. In February and March she will sing Mimì in La Bohème, a role she has sung in a widely acclaimed film, but which she has only sung on one previous occasion at the Met. Last season she sang the title role in Lucia di Lammermoor, which was transmitted live in HD. Since her 2002 Met debut as Natasha Rostova in War and Peace, she has sung Norina in a new production of Don Pasquale (2006), Musetta in La Bohème, Gilda in Rigoletto, and Zerlina in Don Giovanni. She also sang Donna Anna in Don Giovanni during the company's 2006 tour to Japan. Her performances as Elvira in I Puritani in the 2006-07 season and as Juliette in Roméo et Juliette in 2007-08 were transmitted worldwide as part of The Met: Live in HD series. I Puritani is also available on DVD on the Deutsche Grammophon label. In 2007, she and Rolando Villazón gave a special concert to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Met at Lincoln Center, Anna & Rolando Celebrate the Met, with excerpts from La Bohème, Manon, and L'Elisir d'Amore.
Appearing at the Met for the first time since her 2007 debut as Hélène Bezukhova in War and Peace, Ekaterina Gubanova makes her role debut as Giulietta. The Russian mezzo is a graduate of the young artists program of the Royal Opera, Covent Garden, where she made her debut in 2002. She made her Paris Opera debut as Brangäne in Tristan und Isolde and has since returned there to sing Suzuki in Madama Butterfly and Nicklausse in Les Contes d'Hoffmann. Other roles in her repertory include Néris in Medée (La Monnaie, Brussels), Olga in Eugene Onegin (Salzburg Festival), Amneris in Aida (Bavarian State Opera), and Clitemnestre in Iphigénie en Aulide (Rome Opera).
Kate Lindsey, a recent graduate of the Met's Lindemann Young Artist Development Program, sings Nicklausse/The Muse for the first time. She was a frequent presence at the Met last season, appearing as Second Lady in Die Zauberflöte, Kitchen Boy in Rusalka, and Wellgunde in Das Rheingold and Götterdämmerung. In addition, she sang with the MET Chamber Ensemble under James Levine in Zankel Hall. Lindsey made her Met debut as Javotte in Manon in 2005 and has since sung Cherubino in Le Nozze di Figaro, Stéphano in Roméo et Juliette, and the Madrigalist in Manon Lescaut. Later this season she makes her debut at the Bavarian State Opera as Cherubino and sings the title role in the world premiere of Daren Hagen's Amelia at the Seattle Opera. She is also scheduled to sing Nicklausse/The Muse in another new production at next summer's Santa Fe Festival.
Joseph Calleja sings Hoffmann for the first time in his career in the Met's new production. Last season the Maltese tenor added the role of Nemorino in L'Elisir d'Amore to his Met repertory and reprised the role of his 2006 company debut, the Duke in Rigoletto. The New Yorker said of his Duke, "Joseph Calleja proves himself to be the Brazil of singers: he's the tenor of the future, and always will be. The big, honeyed tone-the purest and most appealingly Italianate sound since Pavarotti-has acquired a slightly darker tinge." Calleja has also appeared at the Met as Macduff in Macbeth. Elsewhere this season, he performs Rodolfo in La Bohème (Hamburg State Opera, Vienna State Opera), Macduff (Bavarian State Opera), Nemorino (Tokyo's New National Theater), Edgardo in Lucia di Lammermoor and Ruggero in La Rondine (both at Frankfurt Opera), and Gabriele Adorno in Simon Boccanegra (Royal Opera, Covent Garden).
Alan Held sings the roles of the four villains in Les Contes d'Hoffmann: Lindorf in the prologue and epilogue, Coppélius in Act I, Dr. Miracle in Act II, and Dappertutto in Act III. The American baritone first performed the four villains at the Met in 1993. He most recently appeared as Peter in Richard Jones's new production of Hansel and Gretel in 2007, a performance which was transmitted live in HD and is now available on DVD on the EMI label. Since his 1989 Met debut as Mr. Redburn in Billy Budd, Held has sung numerous roles, including Captain Balstrode in Peter Grimes, Donner in Das Rheingold, Gunther in Götterdämmerung, Shchelkalov in Boris Godunov, both Don Fernando and Don Pizarro in Fidelio, Moneybags Billy in Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny, Abimélech in Samson et Dalila, Capulet in Roméo et Juliette, Orest in Elektra, and the title role of Wozzeck.
The new production of Les Contes d'Hoffmann marks James Levine's return to conducting after a two-month hiatus due to back surgery. In the years since his 1971 Metropolitan Opera debut, Music Director Levine has forged a relationship with the company that is both unparalleled in its history and unique in today's musical world. He has conducted 82 operas and close to 2,500 performances at the Met, a record no one else has even approached. This season, in addition to the new Les Contes d'Hoffmann, Levine conducts the new production of Tosca, which opened the season and returns to the repertory in April, as well as revivals of Lulu, Der Rosenkavalier, Simon Boccanegra, and concerts with the MET Orchestra in Carnegie Hall on December 20 and January 24. Last season he conducted the new production of La Damnation de Faust and the revival of Orfeo ed Euridice (both transmitted live in HD), the Opening Night Gala starring Renée Fleming, the Met's 125th Anniversary Gala on March 15, and three complete cycles of Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen. Levine conducted Les Contes d'Hoffmann with the Met first on tour in Japan in 1988 and subsequently in the 1992-93 and 1999-2000 seasons.
John Keenan made his Met debut in 1990, conducting Don Giovanni, and has since led performances of two more Mozart operas, Le Nozze di Figaro, and Die Zauberflöte, as well as two by Wagner: Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg and, last season, Das Rheingold.
About the Production Team
Bartlett Sher created an instant hit at his Met debut with his inventive new production of Rossini's IL Barbiere di Siviglia in the 2006-07 season. For the first time at the Met, the production introduced a passerelle, or walkway, which extended from the stage around the rim of the orchestra pit and into the audience. The Wall Street Journal said the show was "lighthearted and blissfully funny," and called the passerelle "a stroke of genius...it was thrilling to have those voices close, without the orchestra pit in between." Sher received the 2008 Tony, Drama Desk, and Outer Critics Circle Award for the current Broadway revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein's South Pacific at Lincoln Center Theater. Also for Lincoln Center, where he is resident director, he staged Joe Turner's Come and Gone, Awake and Sing!, and The Light in the Piazza, receiving Tony Award nominations for each production. He made his operatic debut in 2003 at the Seattle Opera with Marvin David Levy's Mourning Becomes Electra, a production that was presented by the New York City Opera in 2004. In 2008, he directed Gounod's Roméo et Juliette at the Salzburg Festival. Sher won the 2002 Joseph A. Callaway Award for his staging of Shakespeare's Cymbeline and more recently received the Julia Hansen Award for Excellence in Directing by the Drama League of New York. He has been the Artistic Director of the Intiman Theatre in Seattle since 2000.
Michael Yeargan collaborated with Bartlett Sher on the acclaimed production of IL Barbiere di Siviglia that marked the director's Met debut in 2006. In all, Yeargan has designed sets for six Met productions, including the world premiere of The Great Gatsby and the company premiere of Susannah in 1999. He made his Met debut with Ariadne auf Naxos in 1993 and later designed the sets for productions of Otello (1994), Così fan tutte (1996), and Don Giovanni (2004). Yeargan, who is active in both theater and opera, won Tony Awards for The Light in the Piazza and South Pacific at Lincoln Center Theater.