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UBC Opera
The Tales of Hoffmann
(Les Contes d'Hoffmann)

Dates and Venue 7,8, 9, 10 November 2013, 7.30pm | Old Auditorium, UBC

Conductor Leslie Dala Director Nancy Hermiston  Lighting design Jeremy Baxter Set design Conor Moore Stage manager Colette Brown

Sung in French with English surtitles

Reviewer Elizabeth Paterson


Tales of Hoffman was Jacques Offenbach’s last and arguably most ambitious work in which he examines the competing pulls of love and art.

Art is represented by the Muse who, like a Greek god, takes the shape of Hoffman’s young companion Nicklausse. This trouser role was manfully undertaken by Katie Miller, with a clear though light mezzo well sustained throughout.

Love appears in many guises. While Hoffman (Weilong Tao) waits in a tavern for his Stella, (Laura Widgett) he is urged on by his drinking companions, high-spirited students sung by the enthusiastic and cheerful UBC Opera Ensemble Chorus, to relate his unhappy love affairs.

Three tales, each quite distinct in mood, each with three beloveds and three villains follow.

The three sopranos are all very different girls. The first is Olympia (soprano Taylor Pardell), apparently the daughter of the inventor Spalanzani (Kevin Guiman, tenor) but in fact a mechanical doll. A crystalline coloratura was matched by an animated automatonl-ike
physicality, neither of which faltered. For a doll with no sensitivity she showed an impeccable sense of comic timing..

Hoffman’s second love is Giulietta, a Venetian courtesan in the employ of the soulstealer Dapertutto. A lush-voiced soprano, Francesca Corrado gave a confident performance, ripe with decadence. At the last, Hoffman appeared to have found true love in the dying Antonia, Katie McCullough, a generously warm and lyrical soprano with a voice of silk.

The villains, Peter Monaghan as Coppelius, Sheldon Baxter as Dapertutto, Jose Ramirez Solano as Dr. Miracle and Micah Schroeder as Lindorf, each brought something different to their roles. Monaghan added a layer of wickedness to the otherwise comic Coppelius and did double duty as the concerned father Crespel, differentiating the roles well. Baxter was suave and devilish.RamirezSolano bustled about with discomforting menace and Schroeder was cool and elegant.Beautiful singing from all four.

The supporting roles were no less capable. Cliff Wong was a very funny Cochenille, Sung San Oh a charming Andres, Duncan WattsGrant a harried Luther. Frantz (Spencer Britten) displayed an unexpected skill at dancing. The chorus changed mood with each act and were
particularly good in Act I, losing nothing of Offenbach’s wit and supreme skill at light comedy.
Their physical actions as mechanical dolls, especially those singers on pedestals, were eeerily
almost human.

The role of Hoffman was sung by Weilong Tao in a strongly emotional performance, though somewhat lacking in nuance, his love duets with his three inamoratas and his arias being equally impassioned. His character was consistent throughout, his attractive tenor never flagging despite being on stage for most of the opera.

The set by Conor Moore converted rapidly from tavern to showroom to palazzo to violinmakers house, although the chorus at times were a bit constrained for space and was admirably lit by Jeremy Baxter.

The Vancouver Opera Orchestra supported the young voices well, never overpowering them and always firmly setting the mood of each act. Leslie Dala (conductor) and Nancy Hermiston (stage director) have much to be proud of in this ambitious undertaking.

2013 Elizabeth Paterson