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Thursday, January 31, 2013

Les Contes D'Hoffman - Edmonton Opera takes us to the Circus and there is much to see and hear Under the Big Top!

It shouldn't be surprising that Circus and Opera go together so well - both are bigger than real life and dramatic.  With Edmonton Opera's Les Contes D'Hoffman (The Hoffman Tales) opening this week at The Jubilee Auditorium, the merging of the two is almost flawless.  Designed by Camellia Koo, it is visually stunning, with striped canvas in sepia tones and a colour palette and attention to detail that fuels the romantic nature of the story.  It is romantic in a nostalgic way - you almost expect to smell popcorn and cotton candy and the lighting suggests that it is filtered through imaginary dust kicked up from the floor. Although he was still tweaking them at the Preview I saw,  Lighting Designer Jason Hand created many gorgeous moments.  It's best when he plays with the shadows, like at the end of Act One when the crowd taunts Hoffman for his misplaced love and their leering shadows crawl menacingly up the sides of the striped tent.

The story is fairly straight-forward.  Hoffman, an aging circus roustabout played by David Pomeroy, is encouraged to tell the assembled circus players a story.  He starts and then gets distracted by his thoughts of love for the Prima Donna Stella and instead tells the story of the three loves of his life. Pomeroy has a gorgeous, well-dimensioned voice and he plays his role believably as he revisits each of his doomed love affairs.  With each he is committed to the passion of the love and increasingly destroyed when each fails for various reasons.

It is quite magical when we get to see what lies inside the tents of the Circus.  Huge drapes of striped canvas create the world of wonders, complete with bearded lady,  half man/half woman and a variety of other exotic creatures, one of which is Olympia (Hoffman's first love), a wind-up doll portrayed by coloratura Teiya Kasahara.  Kasahara's Oylmpia is whimsical and bird-like with a steam-punk sensibility. Her voice is beautiful and her instincts for the humour of her role are bang-on.  Next we meet the beautiful but sickly Antonia sung by Ileana Montalbetti. The staging choices of Director Joel Ivany in this act is extremely effective in creating the haunting of Antonia and Montalbetti is in fine voice and conveys her struggle for life and death particularly well. The 'magic' in this act is also wonderfully done - eliciting gasps of delight from the children in the audience. Hoffman's third love is the courtesan Giulietta (Krisztina Szabó). We are introduced to her via the barcarolle Belle nuit, ô nuit d'amour - for me the most recognizable piece of music - I loved the languid quality created as the lovely ladies called the men to them. Szabó is sexy and smart as Giulietta as she manipulates Hoffman and you have no trouble beleiving he'd be seduced by her, but again this is a relationship doomed to failure.  Oh, poor Hoffman. 

 In addition to the three ladies and Hoffman I was very impressed with Daniel Okulitch who played the four villains - the uptight Lindorff who vies with Hoffman for Stella, the spider-like Coppelius who gives Olympia her eyes, the slick and mysterious (and magical) Dr. Miracle who torments Antonia, and Dappertutto a cowboy-like gambler who enlists Giulietta to betray Hoffman.  Each of the four characters were distinct and his bass is rich and wonderful to listen to. 

It's cohesive and beautiful, musically impressive and a wonderful three ring circus of a show! 

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