Does the Prince Charming always win the heart of the doe-eyed maiden and live happily ever after? Not always. On Friday July 8, 2016 at Queen’s Hall, I had the pleasure of experiencing Picoplat Music Development Foundation’s production of “Tales of Hoffmann”, a scintillating romance that chronicles the woes of love and loss experienced by the Opera’s protagonist, Hoffmann, played by Raguel Gabriel. I expected nothing short of phenomenal music and singing. Aside from a few tentative moments by the chorus in the Prologue, which I could easily chalk up to jitters, my expectations were met.
Hoffmann’s story is a journey of the heartbreak he experienced from his three great loves. Gabriel had a gigantic task of playing a character with such depth; however, it allowed him to show off his range as a performer and he rose to the occasion. I must confess that it took me a few moments to warm up to Gabriel. In the beginning I had a couple issues with his drunken acting; it was either overdone or inconsistent which did not make it believable. But he quickly redeemed himself convincingly showing his agony from his loss loves. Those moments felt genuine and since many of us can relate to the earth shattering experience of heartbreak, it allowed me to connect with his character. Count Lindoff (Justin Welsh) was the over the top villain who I loved. Welsh had great stage presence and his portrayal was captivating. Was he the typical dark, diabolical schemer? No. But the slightly comedic arch nemesis was fun to watch.
The focus of Act One was Hoffmann’s first love, Olympia (Natalia Dopwell), a lifelike Automatic puppet. I wanted to see Gabriel as the wide-eyed optimist untainted by the pessimistic world and he absolutely delivered that school boy puppy love. He was blinded to reality…literally…by a special pair of glasses that made Olympia appear real only to him. It was hilarious! Dopwell was the star of this Act. To play a robot so convincingly and effortlessly whereby not a second of believability was lost, I deem her the “Queen of Commitment”. It was supremely funny and I was impressed.
Probably Act One was too tough to follow because Act Two was my least favourite part of the Opera and it had the most challenges for me. We found a more experienced Hoffmann who has grown a bit colder and now more of a ladies man. At that point of his journey he refused to be duped by the lying eyes of a woman but he still falls head over heels for Giulietta (Stephanie Nahous), a courtesan. Giulietta did not reciprocate his love and convinced Hoffmann to give up his reflection. I expected darker and mystical Act with Nahous paying the seductress. I did not get that ensnaring quality from her and I was left wanting so much more. I must admit that I love extravagant and intricate set designs. However, due to the many scene changes the minimalist approach was the best. But it still requires clear purpose and intention. The setting in this Act left me lost and did not work. Also, ensemble numbers require balance which was missing in the last climatic number bringing an end to the Act. Though melodic, the words were inaudible and I was left deflated.
Matters of the heart are roller coaster rides and I felt like I was on a crazy ride because Act Three turned out to be my favourite Act. We met Hoffmann’s final great love, Antonia (Cara Adams), the song bird who had a debilitating disease that would kill her if she sang excessively…which she did and eventually died. Adams’ portrayal was delightful. This was the first romance where the love was reciprocated between Hoffmann and Antonia. I would have loved to see greater passion and chemistry between Gabriel and Adams to translate that love. This was the Act that showcased two sensational trios. The male trio of Hoffman (Raguel Gabriel), Dr. Miracle (Justin Welsh) and Crespel (Shellon Antoine) was powerful and the men commanded the stage. The second trio of Antonia (Cara Adams), Dr. Miracle (Justin Welsh) and the voice of Antonia’s Mother (Shannon Navarro) was pore raising. Special mention must go to Rory Wallace who brought wonderful comedic relief throughout the Opera in his portrayals of the Servant, Cochenille and Frantz. Brava!
The Muse and Nicklaus (Maegan Pollonais) prove that love is usually right under our noses. Pollonais played an excellent supportive role with Gabriel and I enjoyed their chemistry on stage.
In the end love does in fact conquer all.
Related: “Tales of Hoffmann”- an emotional journey but an experience like no other