The Tales of Hoffmann
Opera Hong Kong
Hong Kong Cultural Centre Grand Theatre
Reviewed: May 23
Part of the Le French May arts festival, Opera Hong Kong's performance of Offenbach's The Tales of Hoffmann was staged in a production by Opéra de Monte-Carlo, directed by Jean-Louis Grinda.
It's probably easier to describe the plot of Wagner's Ring Cycle than the interweaving episodes of Offenbach's foray into grand opera. Suffice to say the protagonist Hoffmann, who is susceptible to the charms of women, tells his drinking pals three stories over three acts that put the flesh on the bones of his predicament, encasing them with a Prologue that lasts longer than act three and an Epilogue that ties up the loose threads in just a few minutes.
Stella, an opera singer who is the focus of Hoffmann's attentions at curtain-up, is later recognised as a distillation of the three women with whom he is infatuated in the supernatural tales that follow.
A suspended blank triptych in the Prologue loosely reflected this trinity of affections; the three panels reconfigured for the sets of the ensuing acts, but with limited imagination. The notion that Hoffmann's emotions for the fairer sex dangle on the end of puppet strings was paralleled by assorted objects similarly suspended over the action, but that's all they did. This feeling of stasis was a recurrent anchor on the performance, despite some excellent singing. The men's chorus took off with a bang in the prologue, although tenor Luca Lombardo as Hoffmann took a while to warm up to his marathon role, with one unfortunate run of tuning in the second act.
Nicolas Cavallier's splendidly resonant bass voice gave excellent service to his suite of villainous roles, while mezzo-soprano Aurhelia Varak (Nicklausse/La Muse) and soprano Sinéad Mulhern (Antonia/Giuletta/Stella) proved consistently on top of the score's demands.
Isabelle Philippe didn't disappoint in her coloratura role of Olympia, producing some sizzling top notes and steamy horseplay with a duped Hoffmann in her act one showcase aria.
Frankie Liu, Sammy Chien, Albert Lim, Bryan Woo and Christopher Leung turned in solid performances in a string of supporting roles - one thing linking all the local singers was the excellent standard of their sung French.