Gregory G. H. Rihn (milwaukeesfs) wrote,
Gregory G. H. Rihn

Madison Opera, “The Tales of Hoffman”

Seeing that the Madison Opera was doing “Tales of Hoffman,” one of our favorites, we drove over to Madison for the matinee performance, Sunday, April 17th.

The opera begins with the prolog set in the tavern Hoffman (Harold Meers) frequents. Once Hoffman is prevailed upon to regale the customers with the stories of his lost loves, the set opens up, and the set pieces for the first act story of Olympia move in, as though conjured forth by Hoffman’s story telling, a conceit that we thought worked very well, with the tavern guests becoming the guests at Spalanzani’s party.

The same idea was followed in Act Two, the story of Antonia. No chorus is called for in this scene, so the customers form an on-stage audience. In Act Three, the customers are the carnival revelers.

Act One is the most fantastic of the acts, presented in candy colors, with Spalanzani (Robert A. Goderich), Cochenille (Jared Rogers), and Coppelius (Morgan Smith, who also sings Lindorf, Dr. Miracle, and Dapertutto) portrayed as cartoonish mad scientists. Jeni Houser presents Olympia as much more of a “dancing doll” than a credible automation, but, given this choice of interpretation, did very well with it. Her ability to hold postures and expressions was first rate, and she handled the difficult vocal part flawlessly.

Act Two is a bit less fantastic but more dark. Sian Davies sings the role of Antonia, the ill young woman whose desire to sing exceeds her body’s strength. The scene is lightened somewhat by Mr. Rogers’ comic song as the servant Frantz, but goes dark again at the entrance of the vampiric Dr. Miracle, whose power over Antonia forces her to her death. A particularly effective and creepy effect was the apparition of Antonia’s mother. I had thought the statue on stage was merely a prop and that the mother’s voice would come from offstage as it frequently does when her image is represented by a portrait. Thus I was genuinely surprised when the statue, like a Dr. Who “Weeping Angel” came to life. (Kelsey Park sang and acted the role of the statue.)

Act Three, the carnival of Venice scene, made a linkage back to the 20’s era dress of the chorus, by costuming Giulietta (Ms. Davies, who also sings Stella in the epilogue) as a silent-movie Cleopatra with gestures that might have been borrowed from Theda Bara in that role.

The Epilogue had a very original and redemptive staging. Commonly, the drunken and passed-out Hoffman is left on stage, alone except for Nicklausse/the Muse (Adriana Zabala) possessively watching over him. In this production, the Muse summons back characters from the prior scenes, and Hoffman, reconciling his memories, begins to write furiously in his notebook as the curtain falls.

This was a really fine production in all respects, which we enjoyed greatly. Kudos in particular to the inventiveness of Stage Director Kristine McIntyre and Scenic Designer Erhard Rom. All of the singers were in excellent voice, and the orchestra, conducted John DeMain, and the chorus, lead by Anthony Cao, were the equal of any.

After the opera, we went down State Street to Kabul Restaurant, a favorite stop for us in Madison. This was our second visit to their new location, and we were pleased to see that the operation has tightened up to old standards. And, speaking of old standards, we chose familiar dishes, lamb kabobs and Koftachalow (Afghani meatballs), which were flavorful and did not disappoint.

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Tags: opera
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