Based on E T A Hoffman’s dark and twisted short stories The Sandman, Councillor Crespel and The Adventures of New Year’s Eve, the English Touring Opera brings its version of Jacques Offenbach’s operatic adaptation to the Northcott. The character Hoffman (Sam Furness) sits in a tavern in an alcoholic stupor, surrounded by drunken friends. He recounts his three former lovers and how each romance came to its doomed end.
Hoffmann’s writing is fantastically dark, exploring deep layers of the human psyche, madness and obsession. Love is never simple in this opera, it is always all-consuming. Furness and Ilona Domnich, who plays Hoffmann’s three lovers, create this dynamic of sexual intrigue and doomed infatuation through their chemistry on stage. Domnich’s soprano is breathtaking, particularly as Antonia whose singing means more to her than her life.
The Tales of Hoffmann is blackly comical and macabre. The set is simple and moody, composed of walls covered in drawers that continuously deliver surprises throughout the show. Puppets are used to unsettling effect – characters manoeuvre each other as puppets and the automaton Olympia is a long-limbed LED-lit skeleton that dances around the stage, in a manner which is both creepy and strangely hilarious. Warwick Fyfe plays the villains and is magnificently ghoulish and monstrous in his devilish makeup. Generally, the actors’ shifts from character to character are successful and add to the story – however, it is very out of place to see Hoffmann’s muse, Louise Mott, transform into his companion Nicklauss, wearing a fat-suit under a schoolboy uniform.
The use of technology in the theatre is interesting as they play with screens and projectors. Shadows dance across the walls and films fill up the set, contrasting the flickering candle lights and flames. The live orchestra delivers the richness of Offenbach’s opera, adding layers and musical comedy to the story. Although, it is a shame they sound a little muted, missing out on some of the grandeur they could have instilled into the show. The vocal performance from the cast is magnificently clear, articulate and powerful.
The Tales of Hoffmann is visually and musically spectacular, paired with great stage choreography that matches the mood of the opera. Through frantic movements and unexpected surprises – at one moment there is a rain of eyeballs – the English Touring Opera brings Hoffman’s psychologically macabre tales to life. Be ready to lose yourself in the madness and music.
Runs until 21 November 2015 | Image: Richard Hubert Smith