Love can often be the best source of artistic inspiration. This message rings true in the LA Opera’s performance of Jacques Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann. Audiences listened to the story of the poet Hoffmann, who, through the help of his Muse (disguised as his friend Nicklausse), reminisces about the woman he loved and lost through the tales of three eccentric beauties.
First comes Olympia, a singing, dancing automaton constructed by the inventor Spalanzani, who, after performing in front of Hoffmann and Spalanzani’s dinner guests, is broken down by the revenge-seeking, rival inventor Coppélius. After the loss of Olympia, Hoffmann falls in love in Venice with Giulietta, but is robbed of both love and his own reflection by a bargain between Giulietta and Dappertutto — Hoffmann’s likeness for a shiny, big diamond.
Soon after is the tragic tale of Antonia, who, after a brief reunion with her lover, dies from a mysterious singing ailment under the hypnotic control of Dr. Miracle. In the end, Hoffmann is left drunk and heartbroken as his true love, Stella — the one all these fantastical stories were based on — leaves with his rival Lindorf. After receiving the bad news, the Muse reveals herself to Hoffmann and reassures him that his misfortune will make great art and poetry later on.
Directed by Marta Domingo and conducted by Plácido Domingo, The Tales of Hoffmann at the LA Opera is as whimsical and fantastic as its narrative. The lighting, staging, set design and talent immerses the audience into the world of Hoffmann. It is the attention to detail that allows for such an immersive experience to the audience, reminding the spectators that underneath the fantasy, the heart of the performance is true.
A blue-lit Venice, with the city in the distance as a gondola slowly goes by, sucks the audience into Giulietta’s romantic, mysterious world. Furthermore, the traditional Venetian masks on houseguests and the ominous snake statue in the room points toward a hidden motive, underlining the fact that Giulietta cannot be trusted and unfortunately, Hoffmann will be left heartbroken.
Likewise, the warmth of the tavern, its tipsy patrons and the dreariness of Munich and Antonia’s sadness enhance the audience’s understanding of the moods behind Hoffmann and his experiences in love. The beautiful lyricism and stellar singing benefits from having a carefully crafted set and lighting scheme, helping to further develop the atmosphere of romance in which Hoffmann finds himself as well as indicate the facets his true lover Stella has.
The attention to detail and emotion does not end at the set pieces or lighting — the performances too sell the story of Hoffmann, fulfilling audience’s desires while surprising them in unexpected ways. So Young Park’s portrayal of Olympia, from her exaggerated blinks to constricted movements, exceeded expectations of what Spalanzani’s automaton may be like, but it is in her vocal range — shifting from soft to loud, jumping from pitch to pitch — that helped the audience to understand the flaws in her design and ultimately, the pain that will come to Hoffmann when he realizes the truth.
Likewise, Christian Van Horn’s performance in place of Nicolas Testé on Thursday as the four villains (Lindorf, Coppélius, Dappertutto and Dr. Miracle) satisfied not only the audience’s desires for the perfect villain — one with a great laugh and biting comebacks — but also went above and beyond with the different postures and attitudes of his villains that still managed to maintain a constant thread of disdain for Hoffmann. From mocking the poet by holding the eyes of Olympia as Coppélius to the disgust as Dappertutto at Hoffmann’s duel with Giulietta’s protector, Schlémil, Van Horn delivers a delightful and invigorating portrayal of an ultimate villain.
The Tales of Hoffmann at the LA Opera entices audiences with its whimsical production of Hoffmann’s stories while reminding visitors that in the end, the heartbreaking moments of life can spur the most creative inspiration.