Ladies in pasties take the stage at the Met for its new production of Les Contes d'Hoffmann. In this thoroughly modern version of the 19th Century tale, Jacques Offenbach's psychodrama about three failed love affairs is part-Kafka, part-Fellini.
Les Contes d'Hoffmann (The Tales of Hoffmann) may seem like the stuff of conventional melodrama. But director Bartlett Sher read the three interconnected love stories as psychological thrillers that delve into what it means to be an outsider and an artist in the quest for love.
Hoffmann isn’t Sher’s first appearance at the Met. He directed Rossini’s The Barber of Seville in 2008. He also won a Tony Award in 2008 for directing the musical South Pacific, still playing across the plaza at the Vivian Beaumont Theater. He has found that the differences between the two forms aren't insignificant. "On Broadway, you have one cast over a long period, and you have lot of time to get it right," he said. "In an opera, because of the amazingly expensive and complicated ways of running a production, it's more difficult to get the time to finish it exactly right."
Sher's production plumbs the darkness of the story, inspired in part by Offenbach's struggle to gain recognition as a serious artist after years of composing light operettas. The director took advantage of the fact that Offenbach left the piece unfinished, which let Sher take greater musical and stylistic risks. The staging and choreography nods to burlesque as much as it does to opera. The result is a piece that, in Sher's words, is "dreamlike" and "fairly nonlinear."
Despite its novelties, the production has some familiar faces: Joseph Calleja stars in the title role, opposite Anna Netrebko. James Levine conducts the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra.
"The one thing I'm certain of is that the music is extraordinary," Sher said. "Ideally, the sort of strange and unusual settings will amplify and pull together the music in a more important and powerful way."
Here are Sher and the cast at a recent rehearsal. Some lucky winners will be attending the Met's open dress rehearsal today. Les Contes d'Hoffmann opens December 7.