Uptown Opera opens its 1995-96 season with Jacques Offenbach’s best-known opera, “Tales of Hoffmann.” Made famous by his operettas, such as “Orpheus in the Underworld” and “La Belle Helene,” Offenbach spent his last years, from 1877 to his death in 1880, working in a more dramatic form for “Tales.”
He did not finish the work, so at the request of his family, Ernest Guiraud put on the finishing touches of orchestration and added recitatives.
Due to the fact that The Met has no pit, Uptown’s production uses a reduced orchestra arrangement, complements of the pen of Stefan Kozinski.
Offenbach’s inspiration for the opera was an 1851 play by Jules Barbier and Michel Carre, based in turn on stories by E.T.A. Hoffmann from several of his books. Barbier created the libretto for Offenbach.
The opera opens in a tavern, where Hoffmann, the poet, a bunch of students and the bad guy, a Councilor Lindorf, gather to carouse and drink the night away. Those gathered convince Hoffmann to tell the stories of his past loves.
Each of the three acts which follow tell a tale of lost love and are generally referred to by the names of the women who are the objects of Hoffmann’s current affection: Olympia, Giulietta and Antonia.
They are all actually the same woman, or manifestations of different aspects of the perfect woman, Stella, who happens to be singing in a production of “Don Giovanni” adjacent to the tavern. Lindorf shows up in various evil personas in each of the tales.
Otherworldly overtones permeate the skits, with evil magic and mind control leading the action in each. As intense as this may sound, Offenbach weaves in a few lighter moments. By the epilogue, Hoffmann is rolling under the table with beer and wine and loses the present and composite Stella to Lindorf.
In his score, Offenbach strives to be more dramatic than in his operettas in order to match the serious nature of the action, but still has many moments which are reminiscent of the popular form. There are several melodies from this opera which will be familiar to most, in particular Giulietta’s “Bell nuit” from the gondola, which used to be listed in every beginning music book under the generic title “Barcarole.”
Appearing in the title role will be tenor Douglas Johnson. He is not new to Spokane. He was a vocal student at Fort Wright College and sang the part of Tamino in Uptown’s 1993 production of Mozart’s “Magic Flute.”
Johnson is a lyric tenor who has spent a good deal of time in opera houses from Vienna and Frankfurt to Nice and Tel Aviv. He refers to himself as a “Mozart tenor,” finding a niche in the “Don Giovanni”/ “Barber of Seville” sorts of roles.
This is his first portrayal of Hoffmann, and he enjoys the challenge, calling it a more dramatic role than his usual. After Spokane, Johnson is off to Charleston, S.C., to sing Britten’s “Serenade” for tenor, horn, and strings, and then on to Syracuse, N.Y., for Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, with Fabio Mechetti conducting.
Gary Aldrich, baritone, gets to be all of the villains in the opera. He, too, has sung with Mechetti in Syracuse and has performed operatic roles from Rigoletto to Falstaff to Papageno for Utah Opera, Hawaii Opera Theater and Lake George Opera as well as all over the United States. He also is well-versed in Broadway, with experience from Porter’s “Kiss Me Kate” to Lerner’s “My Fair Lady” and “Camelot.”
Soprano Kari Ragan will perform the four women. She holds a master’s degree from Indiana University and is currently studying voice with Ellen Faull in Seattle and working with Dean Williamson of the Seattle Opera. She has been working in the Seattle area, singing as a Seattle Opera Preview Artist in “The Pearl Fishers” and as a soloist in “King David” by Honneger.
xxxx Uptown Opera’s “Tales of Hoffmann” Location and time: The Met, tonight through Sunday and Sept. 14-16. Curtain is at 8 p.m. except Thursday when it is at 7:30 a.m. and Sunday when it is at 3 p.m. Tickets: $8-$26, with discounts available for seniors, students, and children 14 and under