Tuneful Tales



Les Contes d’Hoffmann aka Tales of Hoffmann are very tuneful.  I had forgotten how many great melodies Jacques Offenbach had given us in this, his attempt at operatic legitimacy.  Next season the Canada Opera Company will be producing Les Contes d’Hoffmann, but some of us had an early taste in concert tonight, courtesy of Bill Shookhoff’s Opera by Request.

Let me repeat what I just said. Oh my God, Offenbach can write tunes.  My head is a-buzz, as a few of those melodies refuse to let go.

Olympia’s song: 

The Barcarolle, his second best-known tune (after that can-can tune) 

The Ballad of Kleinzach:

And there is so much more, so many other melodies.  Hélas mon Coeur: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z1xfCgiBkKU . Most of Antonia’s entire role: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6NIT5LfoAmo&feature=related

I’m grateful to Bill (Mr Shookhoff that is) for filling my head with tunes.

Offenbach’s opera is three acts of romantic disaster, wherein the storyteller –ETA Hoffmann – not only tells but lives his stories for us.  Each act represents another sort of female ideal (for soprano) and another sort of villainous nemesis (sung by a bass- baritone).  Hoffmann’s tenor heart in on his sleeve throughout.

Nicole Bower deserves particular credit in undertaking the varied and demanding female roles:

  • Olympia is a mechanical doll, singing coloratura like a tuneful machine
  • Antonia sings beautifully but sings herself to death like her mother before her
  • Giulietta is a beautiful courtesan

Henry Irwin was compelling as the villain of several guises, with several different nasty laughs and snarls, as well as a lovely sustained legato.  Jay Lambie as Hoffmann sang the demanding hero’s role, passionately enunciating his French while reaching for the vocal stratosphere.

Thanks, Bill–aka William Shookhoff, artistic director of Opera by Request— for your usual flawless piano playing in support of your  cast.

Opera by Request are back this Friday February 4th  at 7:30 pm with Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande at College Street United Church.  Perhaps I’ll see you there.

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