REVIEWS by Willard Manus

LOS ANGELES -- Jacque Offenbach, master of the French can-can theatre, turned serious at the end of his life with his tour-de-force creation, THE TALES OF HOFFMAN, which closed recently at Los Angeles Opera in a production conceived and directed by Marta Domingo. It was also seen at Kirov Opera and Washington Opera.

"Conceived" is the key word, if only because HOFFMAN was left more or less incomplete by Offenbach. After his death, various directors, impresarios and musicologists have rewritten and/or rearranged Offenbach's work, not always with salubrious results.

Domingo's tinkering with the opera puts the tale of Antonia, (Andrea Rost) the singer doomed to die if she goes on singing, in Act Two instead of Act Three (where it seems to belong). She also adds flamboyant staging and design touches that sometimes make the story of romantic poet Hoffman (Marcus Haddock) falling in love, serially, with a mechanical doll, dying singer and courtesan seem even more bizarre than it is.

Hoffman's quest for love and his resultant disappointment when all his dreams are crushed is universal in its power and poignancy, though. That and Hoffman's achingly beautiful music are the reasons why the opera is still performed throughout the world. With such arias as Hoffman's "Kleinzach," Olympia's "Doll Song," Antonia's duet with Hoffman, and Giuletta's famous Bacarolle to offer, THE TALES OF HOFFMAN will live forever, particularly when it is sung by such world-class singers as Haddock, Rost, Sumi Jo (as Olypia), Milena Kitic (as Giuletta), Samuel Ramey (as the four villains).

Also delivering the vocal goods were Elizabeth Batton as Nicklausse/Muse, Cynthia Jansen as the mother, Robert Teasr as Spalanzani the doll-maker, Louis Lebherz as Crespel, William Parcher as Luther, Greg Fedderly as Franz, John Atkins as Schlemil, Luis Contreras as Nathaniel, David Babinet as Hermann and Janice Cronkhite as Stella.

Emmanuel Villaume conducted the 3 1/2-hr-long production with unflagging strength and precision. The Los Angeles Opera Chorus also did yeoman work.

Next up at Los Angeles Opera (Jan. 11-19, 2003) is the world premiere of a concert performance of THE CORONATION OF POPPEA by Claudio Monteverdi, "revisited" by the contemporary composer Luciano Berio. The 1642 opera has an Italian text by Giovanni Busnello. Conductor Kent Nagano's cast includes Placido Domingo, Hei-Kyung Hong, Frederica von Stade, Michael Chance and Elena Manistina, among others. POPPEA is a work that helped establish opera as a vital new art form; it will be fascinasting to see what the modernist Berio does with it..

February will bring a revival of Rossini's THE BARBER OF SEVILLE, directed by Michael Hampe. Vladimir Chernov will sing Fiagro, opposite Carmen Oprisanu as Rosina (they will alternate with Alfredo Daza and Jessica Rivera). Others in the cast include John Osborn, Bruno Pola and Suzanna Guzman. (Feb. 7-23)

Los Angeles Opera/Dorothy Chandler Pavilion is located at l35 N. Grand Ave. Call Ticketmaster or (213) 365-3500 or visit