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A "Hoffmann" from Paris, 1948.,
This review is from: Offenbach: Les Contes d'Hoffmann [1948 Recording] (Audio CD)Ward Marston, for the Naxos label, continues his work of remastering and reissuing opera recordings dating from the days of 78s. This one dates from the late 1940s. It has had many reissues, and the “Gramophone” still lists it as the recommended recording of “Les Contes d’Hoffmann”.
It boasts a totally French cast and production. Artistic director Michel de Bry (uncredited in this Naxos reissue) made the wise decision to include two singers whose careers were never in opera: Fanèly Revoil (operetta) and Bourvil (film). Their work here is some of the most enjoyable in the whole production. In terms of singers, it is a large cast. Nineteen soloists take the various parts, the tradition of singers doubling parts being retained only in the allocation of four servant roles to Bourvil.
Those who know this opera and its history well will be aware that one soprano should represent all the women with whom Hoffman falls in love, and one baritone all the evil characters who frustrate him. Here, however, you will find an agile Olympia (Renée Doria), an accomplished Giulietta (Vina Bovy) and a piercing Antonia (Géori-Boué) and a trio of individual baritones. Raoul Jobin is an acceptable Hoffmann, lacking only a degree of tenderness in some moments of Offenbach’s wonderful score.
Belgian born but French trained conductor Andre Cluytens directs, preferring fast speeds to finesse and delicate phrasing. If you think the dictates of four minute 78 sides caused this, you’d be wrong. His approach is little different in an EMI recording he directed for LP release ten years later.
The recording was made in the Théātre des Champs-Elysées. If the acoustic quality is rather dry, it nevertheless is flattering to the orchestra’s violin section.