Tune into YouTube starting at 7:30 p.m. on Monday, July 13, to see the St. Petersburg Opera Company’s next #operaandchill production Tales of Hoffmann. This one will be an encore production of Jacques Offenbach’s popular opera, Tales of Hoffmann (Les Contes de Hoffmann). The St. Petersburg Opera Company has been pleasing opera afficionados with a different opera every week, using videos of recent years’ productions, since the current season had to be cancelled during the coronavirus pandemic. The SPOC production of Rigoletto was presented on YouTube from July 6 to 12.
Maestro Mark Sforzini (LEFT) will be streaming live from his home studio on Facebook Live on Monday, July 13, at 6:30 p.m. to give a live preview of this week’s featured opera. He invites opera lovers to join him on the St. Petersburg Opera Facebook page for some fun chat and to stay connected to the St. Petersburg Opera Family. The #operaandchill productions and the pre-show chat are all part of the Maestro’s leadership as he guides his enormous artistic non-profit operation into an uncertain future.
During his lifetime, Offenbach became world famous as the composer of operettas — often lightweight comedies, boasting scores of catchy tunes that have often outlived the works they were written for. The prime example is the ubiquitous “Can-Can” from his operetta Orpheus in the Underworld — a number that tosses out three or four instantly recognizable melodies, all within the space of about ninety seconds.
However, Offenbach wanted to be known for more than just his frothy operettas, and hoped the Tales of Hoffmann would establish him as a recognized master of serious opera. Unfortunately, he died shortly before the opera had its premiere in 1881. His first and only opera is based on a play by the writers Jules Barbier, who wrote the opera’s libretto, and Michel Carre. It was produced as a motion picture adaptation in 1957.
The play is based on a real life German poet, E.T.A. Hoffmann, and makes him a character in some of his own fanciful stories. Tales of Hoffmann follows the same scheme, placing the title character into three, fanciful stories of failed love. The result is one of the grandest and most expressive of all 19th-century French operas — achieving a combination of emotional depth and musical brilliance that few opera composers have ever achieved.
In this Opera Fantastique John Kaneklides plays the role of Hoffmann, a young poet. He is the leading tenor throughout the “Tales” of three separate romances, each staged in a different location and with a different leading lady soprano playing the parts of his loves. Following a prologue in a tavern, where we meet the poet’s Muse, played by Kathleen Shelton, who also plays Nicklausse, Hoffmann’s friend. This love story has been said to depict youthful infatulation.
Act I finds Hoffmann in Nuremberg, Germany, where inventor Spalanzani, played by Gilad Paz, introduces Hoffmann to his “daughter,” an automaton named Olympia, played by Kelly Curtin. She literally must be literally “wound up” to continue some of her beautiful songs. Act I is usually referred to as the “Olympia Act.”
Act II takes our poet hero to Munich, Germany for the “Antonia Act,” where he meets beautiful Antonia, daughter of Crespel, a violin maker. Antonia is portrayed by Lara Lynn McGill, while Crespel is played by Hans Tashjian. This is known as the “Antonia Act,” when poet Hoffmann in involved in the indulgences of a wastrel.
Finally, Act III, known as the “Giuletta Act” finds Hoffmann in Venice, Italy, where he experiences “true love,” only to see it disappear. Giuletta, a Venetian courtesan and the consumptive daughter of a celebrated composer, is played by Susan Hellman Spatafora. Schlémil, Giuletta’s current patron, is portrayed by John-Andrew Fernandez.
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