The Tales of Hoffman, Called "Bad Luck" --A Huge Hit at LA Opera

The Tales of Hoffman by Jacques Offenbach, presented at LA Opera under the direction and conception of Marta Domingo, with her husband, Placido, conducting, makes for a fast and fun three-and-a-half hours that keep the audience engaged on many levels. 

 

Stella (Diana Damrau)

The opera itself is based on a real poet and artist, E.T.A. Hoffman, a fascinating character who wove humorous and heartfelt tales.  As Marta tells us in the program, he was a multitalented precursor of the surrealist movement. As in the opera libretto, he was very unfortunate in love and abused his body with excesses.

 

The poet Hoffman (Vittorio Grigolo)

Offenbach saw in this story not only the comedy and irony but also the pathos, especially in Hoffman’s love for a singer who would die if she were to sing. Primarily known for his comedies, Offenbach wanted to broaden his reputation.  Tales of Hoffman is a masterpiece in many ways, and it is a shame Offenbach died before the final rehearsals and draft of the first performances.

 

Pre opera talk Duff Murphy

In fact the problems and story behind the story are almost as fascinating as the story itself -- a story of unfortunate accidents and death. This was elucidated by Duff Murphy, of KUSC’s Opera Show, who gave the pre-opera lecture. He remarked that bad luck has followed it from the beginning.  Not only did Offenbach not live to see the final performance, but also, in one of its early performances in Europe, the opera house burned down, 400 people died, and the director killed himself the next day.  In a later performance, there was a fire in yet another opera house and parts of the original score were burned. 

 

Lindorf (Nicolas Teste)

Even in our own opening night, the bad luck struck, as the major bass-baritone star Nicolas Teste, who was to sing the parts of the four villains, was afflicted with a throat illness and he had to mouth the words as another sang in the pit (Wayne Tiggs).  Even Teste’s wife, diva Diana Damrau, who was originally supposed to play the three large soprano roles, limited herself to one due to an illness.  And I must say, in the same tradition, at the second intermission, it so happened that I spilled coffee all over myself! And it made me feel part of opera history!

Hoffman and Giulietta

 

But it is such a wonderful piece and engaging story, a varied and whimsical production with musical melodies, that it has continued to be played at opera houses around the world. Because of the lack of finality of Offenbach’s opening night, the story has been manipulated through the years and tweaked.  A song from another of his pieces was added.  However, there have been two discoveries of more portions of the original in recent times, The Domingos have incorporated them all with great success. Placido recalls his many performances in the title role as some of the happiest times of his life.

 

The robo-doll Olympia (So Young Park)

Sometimes accidents bring out unexpected miracles.  I was thrilled to see my new favorite comedic soprano, So Young Park, play the role of the first soprano heartbreak, Olympia, the mechanical doll.  Not only is her voice perfect, but also her comic timing and movements had the audience howling. She didn’t skip a beat in her robotic singing and movements, capturing every moment of humor. She also stood out in the LA Opera’s recent production of Abduction at the Seraglio as the sassy and strong-minded maid Lucy who could boss around her huge macho suitor.

 

Hoffman courts Olympia

Italian tenor Vittorio Grigolo is a wonder as he conquers every aspect of his role, from drunken lost soul to humorous bar singer and dancer to star struck lover.  He is a tenor to keep your eye on - he lives up to every challenge both vocally and physically. His last role at LA Opera was the romantic lead in Romeo and Julietta.

 

Giulietta (Kate Aldrich)

I enjoyed Kate Aldrich as Giulietta, the conniving prostitute. Her strong and lyrical voice made me feel I could listen to her all night. Also the tale she starred in took place in Venice, made all the more magical with its aqua-colored and sparkling set. One of the most popular melodies is in this segment, a barcarolle, reminiscent of the gondola drivers’ songs. The melody has been used and enjoyed on its own throughout the years for many other types of productions,

 

Antonia (Diana Damrau)

Diana Damrau as Antonia showed off her rich and resonant voice.  She is a woman who sings herself to death, and she has such force and energy on stage, it was difficult to imagine her sick with bronchitis. In her scenes, I also remarked on the strong and poignant voice of Nicholas Brownlee as Crespel, her father, who is also fighting Satan.

 

The Muse in disguise

Kate Lindsey as the Muse of Poetry and disguised as Hoffman’s pal Nicklausse, accompanies him in all his forlorn adventures and tries to save him. She confides to the audience in the beginning that she loves him and wishes he would recognize her and love her back.   In the last act, she returns as the Muse to Hoffman’s defeated self and reassures him that all his love and all his weeping were not in vain.  They were in fact necessary to make him a better and true artist.  This was so beautiful to me -- it brought tears.

Muse (Kate Lindsey) and the prostrate Hoffman

 

Christophe Mortagne played the four servants. His is from the Comedie Francaise and is a fine-tuned character of humor.  I must admit I loved his last one best as the Einstein-looking guy Frantz, who shows off to the audience and thinks he knows it all.

 

Hoffman and Franz (Christophe Mortagne)

What can I say about Nicolas Teste? His substitute’s voice of Wayne Tiggs was deep and clear and I would like to hear him again soon in LA Opera.  Poor Teste! Although sick, he performed all the many physical movements required of the villains’ roles. As he says, there “is something about him that is satanic.”  Fortunately for new audiences, he is expected to be recovered from his ailment and able to match his own voice with his character actions.

 

The ball at Olympia's

The chorus is huge and well-dressed.  They are best used in the Olympia scene as guests of her father, the crazy scientist Spalanzani (well played by Rodell Rosel). They are expected to dance and to admire his “daughter,” the mechanical doll.  Some of them have reactions that were quite droll. Also prominent in the bar scenes with the guys, the chorus did come off a rowdy bunch!

This is a rich and engaging opera. There is much to enjoy.  I recommend it highly.

Photos courtesy of LA Opera/Ken Howard (photo of pre-opera by Georja Umano).

 

Georja Umano is an actor and animal advocate.

 

LA Opera Schedule for The Tales of Hoffman

 

Thursday, March 30   7:30pm

Sunday,     April  2        2:00pm

Thursday, April  6       7:30pm

 Sunday,     April 9         2:00pm

  Saturday, April 15       7:30pm

 

Visit LAOpera.org

Or phone 213 972 8001

 

 

 

 

 

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