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Thursday, Feb. 29
The Indiana Daily Student


'Tales of Hoffman' has it all

Looking for an all-around good time? Ever try the opera? If you've seen this weekend's performances of "The Tales of Hoffmann," you know exactly what I'm talking about. This opera has more enjoyable experiences rolled into it than the mind can possibly imagine. It has engaging stories, hilarious comedy, tear-jerking tragedy, incredible singing, imaginative costumes, spectacular scenery and, of course, wonderful music. It was magical yet sophisticated, light yet dramatic, and fanciful yet meaningful -- a work truly appealing to all ages and tastes.\n"The Tales of Hoffmann" was written in 1880 by the French composer (of German-Jewish origins) Jacques Offenbach. Although Offenbach is primarily known for his light and satiric operettas, this work is a grand-scale, full-length and quite serious opera. It was both his last major work and is considered by many to be his finest. It essentially tells the story of a man telling stories. It begins with the muse explaining the story's moral and shifts to Hoffmann and his buddies drinking beer and telling jokes. With Hoffmann is the female muse who has taken on the guise of his male friend Niklausse (yes, there is some cross-dressing), and who stays with him in that form as a sort of guide throughout the entire opera. \nThe dialogue then suddenly shifts from the beer-hall to Hoffmann's three loves and with this the first scene dissolves in clouds to reveal act one. The first act is a side-splitting, riotous comedy about how Hoffmann fell in love with Olympia, who is actually a robot created by the scientist Spalanzani. Needless to say, he is disappointed in this affair. Act two focuses on Antonia, the daughter of the widower Crespel who forbids her to sing because her voice reminds him of her mother. Hoffmann promises to let her sing and almost elopes with her when the evil Dr. Miracle steals her life from her. The third act is the story of Giulietta, a wealthy courtesan, who is mesmerized by the evil Dappertutto to steal Hoffmann's reflection. She does this by making Hoffmann fall madly in love with her, so much so that he kills a man for the key to her room and has to flee. This leads back to the beer-room, where the muse falls in love with Hoffmann, and he returns her love by pledging his undying affection for her. That is, he is now in love with the muse's inspiration over any woman -- a very lofty moral.\nAs far as the production goes, its force and enchantment were far beyond anything offered by "Don Giovanni" or "Julius Caesar," the first two operas of this season. Probably the most enchanting element was the scenery. The sets were massive, intricate and beautiful. They seemed so permanent, yet were moved and shifted with the greatest of ease. The beer-hall scene was, as is necessary, realistic, but the scenes for the three acts were colorful and imaginative. The scenes of Spalanzani's ballroom and Giulietta's Venetian palace were particularly enchanting and magnificent. But nothing is to be detracted from the scenes of Spalanzani's laboratory and Crespel's home, which were equally charming, though not on as grand of a scale.\nAlong with the scenery the costumes captured the audience's imagination well. The three evil geniuses -- Coppelius, Dr. Miracle, and Dappertutto -- had the most interesting costumes. They were original with a dominant element of whimsy, a factor which was everpresent throughout Hoffmann's three stories.\nThe singers themselves could not have done better. One must admire first of all the fact that the entire opera was performed successfully in French, a very difficult feat. Much appreciation goes to Michael Rees Davis's endurance and emotion as Hoffmann, Mi Young Park's range as Olympia and Trent Casey's combination of drama and song as Dr. Miracle. But these are only a few of an overall wonderful cast who certainly deserve much applause for their electrifying performance. And let's not forget the orchestra. Imre Palló and the musicians did a magnificent job in bringing to life the gorgeous and elegant music of Offenbach.\nThis performance of "The Tales of Hoffmann" shows opera at its finest. I frequently found myself being completely engulfed by the engaging plot, the vivid characters and the beautiful music. If you have not seen it yet, I highly suggest seeing this opera; it is guaranteed to be an unforgettable experience.\n"Tales of Hoffman" will be playing at the Musical Arts Center Nov. 22 and 23 at 8 p.m. and Nov. 24 at 4 p.m. Tickets are still available at or the MAC box office.

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