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Tales of Hoffmann at Wolf Trap

Wolf Trap Opera Company's new chamber production of Offenbach's The Tales of Hoffmann offered much comedy, yet missed its dramatic potential due to minimal staging, lighting, and orchestral forces. The stories of love lost from demoralized poet Hoffmann (tenor Nathaniel Peake), reinforced by the Muse/Nicklausse and chorus of hipster students, with antagonist (bass-baritone Craig Irvin), begins with boisterous drinking songs in a bare, cramped Luther's Tavern (sets by Michael Olich).

First, the disappointments. Given that over three-quarters of the stage was taken up by moveable wooden blocks making a wall in the staging by Dan Rigazzi, Hoffmann and the chorus barely had room to move during the fun, rhyming Legend of Kleinzach. Perpetually under low lighting, the dozen chorus members would at times spend more than a dozen minutes blocked in the same place, looking bored, particularly during awkward lengthy pauses between scenes (conductor Israel Gursky) that slowed the work's momentum. Faces of main characters were often obscured in a shadow (lighting by Robert H. Grimes), which did not much matter for Hoffmann, who had more or less the same detached expression throughout the entire opera. Clumsy French dialogue was reminiscent of a local high school French class. Hoffmann's Muse, resonantly sung by mezzo Catherine Martin, was supposed to be in disguise as Hoffmann's friend Nicklausse; however, it must be difficult to walk like a man wearing stilettos.

Other Reviews:

Tim Smith, Wolf Trap Opera offers vigorous, absorbing production of 'Tales of Hoffmann' (Baltimore Sun, August 9)

Karren LaLonde Alenier, Hoffmann's Sirens (The Dressing, August 9)

Anne Midgette, Intimate, long ‘Hoffmann’ has problems at Wolf Trap Opera (Washington Post, August 8)

Terry Ponick, Wolf Trap Opera's lengthy, vigorous 'Tales of Hoffmann' (Washington Times, August 8)
Craig Irvin's strong acting, demonic eyes, and brassy bass-baritone voice strengthened his roles (Lindorf, Coppelius, Dr. Miracle, and Dapertutto) as adversaries to Hoffmann and were most memorable. The mechanical doll Olympia (soprano Jamie-Rose Guarrine, pictured), who is seen as fully human through special glasses by an infatuated Hoffmann, sang her virtuosically sweet song with comfortable ease and precision, until her robotics had a comic meltdown. Antonia (Marcy Stonikas), who was forbidden to sing by her father (Kenneth Kellogg) since it was thought to cause her illness, did sing secretly for Hoffmann, leading to her death. Stonikas was quick to overpower the resonant wooden walls of the Barns when singing the sweet text, "the turtledove has flown far away from you." The seductively malicious courtesan Giulietta (soprano Eve Gigliotti) conveyed the best balance of vocal nuance, emotive acting, and command of French language. After his woeful stories of suffering and a nicely sung lamenting piece for unaccompanied men's chorus, Hoffmann realized that poetry is his love and kissed his undisguised Muse under a spotlight, switched on for the first time.

Photo by Carol Pratt

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