An on-stage honky-tonk piano regaled us with Offenbach’s Can-Can, providing a colourful opening to his final opera, The Tales of Hoffman.
First performed in 1881, but now with a 1920’s Hollywood twist in ‘‘a universe similar, but not identical to our own’’. How true.
The prologue’s famous drinking scene launched extravagant memories of Hoffman’s past loves, giving plenty of scope for everyone. First night nerves and odd scenery difficulties were worrying, however problems were mostly smoothed over with speed and skill.
Eric Wetherell’s reduced score certainly gave the instrumentalists special responsibilities; solos and all. One felt for the on-stage harpist however, as she nobly coped with little light but totally entered into the acting when necessary. Odd mis-matches between orchestra and singers will no doubt have improved as all become familiar with Phil Ypres-Smith’s lively baton from the pit – also repeated on two monitors facing the stage.
Plenty of scope for singers, especially Lorraine Payne’s coloratura mechanical doll dressed in exquisite flapper evening attire, truly challenged by the demanding physical nature of her role adding to splendid vocal acrobatics.
The major character Hoffmann, was a tour-de-force from Roger Hanke, particularly his splendid depiction of Chaplin in the filming scene, fully entering into the spirit of the silent movie hero. His “oppo” matched with a beautiful depiction by Sophie Levi of the dying heroine. Lighting was imaginative except when two soloists were frustratingly silhouetted during telling arias.
This is a curiously puzzling opera particularly where text could have been clearer, although for the most part balance was good. Remember that the company would have had very little rehearsal time in theatre, therefore all the more praise to everyone for a distinctive evening.