San Francisco Opera’s summer season opens on June 5 with Jacques Offenbach’s Les Contes d’Hoffmann. A co-production with Barcelona’s Gran Teatre del Liceu and L’Opera National de Lyon, it’s created by French director, Laurent Pelly (who also designed the costumes), and Chantal Thomas. American tenor, Matthew Polenzani, stars in the title role, with French soprano, Natalie Dessay, as Antonia.
The cast also includes Christian Van Horn as the four villains, Angela Brower is Nicklausse, Olympia is sung by Hye Jung Lee, Irene Roberts is Giulietta, and Stella is sung by Jacqueline Piccolino.
The San Francisco Opera Orchestra is conducted by Patrick Fournillier, and Ian Robertson directs the San Francisco Opera Chorus.
Offenbach’s opéra fantastique – a tribute to the German poet, E T A Hoffmann – is based on a play by Jules Barbier (who wrote the original libretto for the opera) and Michel Carre. The play, a sequence of three short stories by Hoffmann, telling of a fruitless search for love, has as its main character the real life Hoffman.
Offenbach became world famous for his operettas during his lifetime – lightweight comedies which featured many popular melodies which have retained their popularity even today. He nevertheless longed to become well known for more serious operas, and his hope was that Les Contes d’Hoffmann – which he began writing in 1877 – would achieve this ambition. As it happened, the opera did, but Offenbach died in 1880 while the production was still in rehearsal.
For the following 100 years, manuscripts of various parts of the opera continued to be found, and many different versions of the score have been assembled.
Laurent Pelly is one of today’s most sought-after opera and theatre directors. He has been Director of Théâtre National de Toulouse since 2007, and highlights of his tenure include Victor Hugo’s Mille cents francs de récompense (also at l’Odéon in Paris and winner of the 2011 French critics’ “best director” award, as well as “best set design”), and most recently Shakespeare’s Macbeth. His current opera productions include Ravel’s L’enfant et les sortilèges and L’heure espagnole for the Glyndebourne and Saito Kinen Festivals, Robert le Diable for the Royal Opera House and Grand Théâtre de Genève, and Bellini’s I Puritani for L’Opéra National de Paris.
Set designer Chantal Thomas has collaborated with Laurent Pelly on almost 40 theater, opera and musical productions. She established a set design workshop in Paris in 1984, and created her first original sets in 1987, for productions by Jean-Louis Martin-Barbaz. At the Opéra National de Paris, Chantal Thomas has collaborated on productions of Platée, Les Sept péchés capitaux, Ariadne auf Naxos and L’elisir d’amore. She made her San Francisco Opera debut in 2009 with La Fille du Régiment.
American lyric tenor, Matthew Polenzani, most recently appeared in San Francisco as Belmonte in Die Entführung aus dem Serail and as Count Almaviva in Il Barbiere di Siviglia. He has previously appeared as Hoffmann at Lyric Opera of Chicago, of which performance the Chicago Tribune wrote: “One had only to marvel at the stamina, tonal reserves, ease in the upper range and bell-like French vowels he brought to this daunting part.” He has recently appeared as Tamino in Die Zauberflöte at Los Angeles Opera, the Vienna State Opera and the Metropolitan Opera, as Nemorino in L’Elisir d’Amore, as Ernesto in Don Pasquale at the Met and as des Grieux in Manon at Milan’s La Scala.
French soprano, Natalie Dessay, delighted San Francisco audiences in the title role of Lucia di Lammermoor in 2008. She recently debuted the role of Antonia in Les Contes d’Hoffmann in Pelly and Thomas’ new production in Barcelona, and she has also sung the role of Olympia in Lausanne, Vienna, Orange, Paris and at the Metropolitan Opera. Highlights of her career include Zerbinetta in Ariadne auf Naxos at the Met, at Paris Opera, and at the Salzburg Festival; the Queen of the Night in Die Zauberflöte at Paris Opera; and Morgana in Alcina, in Paris, the Salzburg Festival, Lyric Opera of Chicago, and the Aix-en-Provence Festival. After her recent appearance as Cleopatra in Giulio Cesare at the Metropolitan Opera, The Wall Street Journal described her as “astonishing, singing with lyricism, sparkle and . . . projecting Cleopatra’s emotional range from conniving flirtiness to abject despair.”
Patrick Fournillier is music director of the Nouvel Orchestre De Saint-Etienne, and co-founder and music director of the Massenet Festival at Saint-Etienne. He made his San Francisco Opera debut in 2010 with Cyrano de Bergerac, a work with which he has had great success at the Paris Théâtre du Châtelet, La Scala in Milan, and also in Valencia. Recent engagements include Suor Angelica and La Voix Humaine with Seattle Opera; Carmen, in Dresden, Zurich and Stuttgart; Pagliacci at Florence’s Teatro Comunale; La Damnation de Faust with Dresden’s Saxon State Opera; Les Contes d’Hoffmann for his Metropolitan Opera debut; Hamlet in Strasbourg, Lucia di Lammermoor in Stuttgart, and La Traviata and Rigoletto in Turin.
Ian Robertson has been chorus director and conductor with San Francisco Opera since 1987, and has prepared more than 300 productions for the Company. In 2003 he was awarded the Olivier Messiaen Foundation Prize for his artistic contribution to the preparation of the Company’s North American premiere of Saint François d’Assise, and was the recipient of the 2012 San Francisco Opera Medal.
Sung in French, with English supertitles, this production of Les Contes d’Hoffmann uses a newly revised libretto by Agathe Mélinand and Laurent Pelly, based on the integral edition edited by Jean-Christophe Keck and Michael Kaye. It’s presented in three acts, with a prologue and an epilogue.
The nine performances of Les Contes d’Hoffman run from June 5 to July 6. For details of exact dates and times please visit the San Francisco Opera website