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David Pomeroy as Hoffmann and Elizabeth Futral as Giulietta [Photo by Gaston de Cardenas courtesy of Florida Grand Opera]
06 Feb 2011

Les Contes d’Hoffmann, Florida Grand Opera

If you are ever lucky enough to have the opportunity to catch a great exponent of just one of two major roles — the heroines or villains — in Offenbach’s Les Contes d’Hoffmann, you should secure a seat maintenant.

Jacques Offenbach: Les Contes d’Hoffmann

Hoffmann: David Pomeroy; Olympia/Antonia/Giulietta/Stella: Elizabeth Futral; Counsellor Lindorf/Coppélius/Dr. Miracle/Dapertutto: Bradley Garvin; The Muse/Nicklausse: Katherine Rohrer; Offenbach/Cochenille/Frantz/ Pitichinaccio: Matthew DiBattista; Luther/Crespel: Philip Skinner; Andrès/Spalanzani: Neal Ferreira; Antonia’s Mother: Courtney McKeown. Conductor: Lucy Arner. Stage Director: Renaud Doucet. Set and Costume Designer: André Barbe. Lighting Designer: Guy Simard. Production: Original co-production of Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, Opera Colorado, and Boston Lyric Opera.

Above: David Pomeroy as Hoffmann and Elizabeth Futral as Giulietta

All photos by Gaston de Cardenas courtesy of Florida Grand Opera

 

If both of those roles are taken up by such the rarified performer, it would behoove you to stage a sit-in at the box office. Florida Grand Opera can boast to the latter situation with its production of Hoffmann (seen opening night, January 22).

The detail in three of Bradley Garvin’s four villains, each with oodles of personal stamp, made it easy to forget that he has taken the roles up only 15 times, covering them at the Met last season. This was the bass-baritione’s FGO debut. Lindorf was a less developed, more ambiguous character for Garvin — a bother for certain, probably not evil incarnate. By turns, Garvin’s Dr. Miracle was cruelly insinuating and, knowing Antonia’s heart, ruthlessly played on her weaknesses. Garvin’s transformation included a more backward vocal placement and an eerie French brogue, adding a backward leaning stance and the creepy pointing of bony digits; this Dr. Miracle exorcised the living force within Antonia with quiet mayhem.

FGO_Hoffmann_05.gifDavid Pomeroy as Hoffmann and Katherine Rohrer as The Muse/Nicklausse

In Elizabeth Futral’s first essaying of the four heroines, her greatest challenge may well be making a believable woman-as-object out of Olympia in a production that plays up the phantasmagorical in Offenbach’s story. Olympia’s costume is a cumbersome cubed-patterned dress, with an exaggerated petticoat that gives way to a box and keyhole — her cranking mechanism. Futral darkened her voice, her word texturing the stuff of magic itself, as she became a helpless and aimless Antonia, on breakneck course to lose her soul.

Hoffmann was the role of David Pomeroy’s Metropolitan Opera debut in 2009 and the Canadian tenor did many things right in his opera debut with FGO. The tale of the dwarf Kleinzach was finished well, his singing in the duet with Antonia was impassioned, and by the epilogue, Pomeroy had plenty in reserve to return to the final revelation of the Kleinzach legend. His voice is a husky one that he covers or not at will below the passagio — this is Hoffmann as a bit of a brute.

In another company debut, Conductor Lucy Arner seemed at home in the French Romantic repertoire. Arner’s keen sense of tempi and firm hand made rhythmic timing with singers — one of Hoffmann’s musical moguls — look easy. The type of delicate instrument playing elicited for Nicklausse’s short solo in Antonia’s Act reminded that the conductor has extensive experience in chamber music. Katherine Rohrer (The Muse/Nicklausse) is a real sprite, most memorable in the latter song and in serially mocking Hoffmann’s attraction for Olympia. Matthew Dibattista took on Offenbach, Cochenille, Frantz and Pitchinaccio, carrying on especially heartily in Frantz’s aria. Phillip Skinner made both Luther and Crespel relevant. FGO was rewarded by entrusting the roles of Henri Meilhac, Wolframm, and Schlemil to Young Artist Craig Colclouch. Other Young Artists that acquitted themselves favorably were James Barbato (Wilhelm), Jonathan G.Michie (Hermann), Daniel Shirley (Nathanail); Young Artist Courtney McKeown’s assignment as Antonia’s mother is rather unorthodox here, from the inside of a huge male action figure, she moved the thing about as she sang.

FGO_Hoffmann_04.gifElizabeth Futral as Antonia, Bradley Garvin as Dr. Miracle and Courtney McKeown as Antonia’s mother

This joint production of Opera Colorado, Opera Theatre of Saint Louis and Boston Lyric Opera emphasizes the “dreamlike” over the cerebral in Hoffmann’s tales. It was as if Andre Barbe (sets and costumes) and Guy Simard (lighting) heaved mixed chunks of Willy Wonka and Dr. Who on the Olympia and Giulietta Acts. A stage-sized screen with sliding doors opens to an Offenbach shrine in gold in the middle of Spalanzani’s workshop. Lime green lab coats and garbage-pail-inspired robots are the stuff at the workshop and serpentine seahorse headdresses, and rolling staircase gondolas, a nod to the ‘Barcarolle’ and Venice. If M.C. Escher etching look-a-likes behind the doors in each act seemed out of place, they did much to draw the eye downstage. Renaud Doucet’s meticulous consideration of blocking and movement — each person, down to the last super, had a place to be and executed some purposeful action — was total. Lastly, FGO’s ensemble singing overall was as good as it has been since 2005 and John Keene’s chorus put on a performance of all-around distinction.

Robert Carreras

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