English National Opera perform the Tales of Hoffmann

The Tales of Hoffmann is an example of opera that has been taken to its absolute excesses. It is an opera where reality gives way to delirium and the inconceivable and it is certainly a very odd production.

The opera tells the story of a poet, his life, and his various passions, many of which are rather unusual. It is an unsettling and at points tragic production and is produced in a surreal way that is probably not how it was initially intended when the first production of the opera premiered in the late 19th century.

The director of the production is Richard Jones and the design has been done by Giles Cadle. The production is put on by the English National Opera and one of the most notable things are the costumes which have been designed by Buki Shiff. The lighting is also rather ingenious and adds to the incredible production values of the opera.

All three of the lead female roles are sung by Georgia Jarman, the American soprano. This is the first performance with the English National Opera and the production is a real marathon for her. Despite this it seems that her voice is not even working as hard as it is capable of. This is in stark contrast to her rather fragile physical appearance.

There is also a great amount of British talent in the opera including Barry Banks, the tenor. His voice shines through his costume which portrays him as a poet with a beard and wig.

The number of unusual characters and scenes that appear in this opera is extraordinary and there are appearances from numerous unlikely characters. These include circus trainers, monster gorillas and also strange monocled women. All of these characters appear on an equally unusual set that looks part suburban in part sylvan.

The strengths of all the singers in the production is admirable and Clive Bayley performs exceptionally well in the role of several villains in the production. Despite the singers’ clear talents there is certainly a touch of unevenness musically throughout the production.

There were some tuning problems with the chorus ensemble which is quite unusual as the English National Opera are usually incredibly reliable.It is entirely possible, and almost likely, that these were small occurrences that happen on the first night that will not be seen in subsequent performances, so if you are going to see this opera, you probably needn’t worry.

Another opera that has recently been launched is the production of Thelma which is taking place at Surrey Opera. The production has been rediscovered and the plot revolves around Vikings, Christians and pagans. It is a very unusual production and it was ‘rediscovered’ by Samuel Coleridge-Taylor at the end of the 19th century. Despite Coleridge-Taylor saying that he rediscovered the production, many people have speculated that this was just him creating rumour around it and that he actually wrote the script himself.

The script is rather unusual and many people will find that it has a bit too much crackpot humour for them. Many will find that they wish the production was sung in Bulgarian or Norse so that they could not understand the rather turgid lyrics, it is entirely possible that this would actually add value to the performance.

Despite all of this, the production is well put together and the orchestra does a fantastic job and the entire score is definitely worth listening to. The cast are also very talented and put on a great show and with relatively simple costumes which add a great deal of authenticity to the entire production. The conductor, Jonathan Butcher, deserves a special mention for his performance.