Tenor Vittorio Grigolo is not a tall man. Google wouldn't reveal his height, but my guess is he stands around 5'7″. Yet the way he commands the stage and makes it his own in LA Opera's "The Tales of Hoffman" gives the 40-year-old Italian opera star a large-than-life quality.
Divided into three acts, in addition to a prologue and an epilogue, the opera runs about three and a half hours. With a vibrant cast, exceptional stage design, and the electrifying talent and chemistry of the actors, the hours fly by.
Grigolo plays the unlucky-in-love poet, E.T.A. Hoffman. In the prologue, he finds himself drunk in a cozy tavern. A muse (played by mezzo-soprano Kate Lindsey), disguises herself as his male friend Nicklausse to protect him from his series of heartbreaks. The scene then shifts to Hoffman recounting his woeful romances to a group of eager men drinking at the tavern. Grigolo's mastery over his voice is so potent that he does not waver as he performs the wobbly antics of a drunken man.
The first act centers on his love for Olympia (soprano So Young Park), a mechanical doll. Although Nicklausse tries to warn him, the romantic falls hard. Park stuns with both her voice and her meticulous impression of a robotic doll, her performance inducing enthusiastic applause from the audience.
In Act II, Hoffman falls for the scheming Giulietta, a courtesan played by mezzo-soprano Kate Aldrich. Giulietta tricks Hoffman into giving her his reflection under the orders of Captain Dapertutto (bass-baritone Christian Van Horn). Aldrich's portrayal of the fiery and vivacious courtesan was one of the show's highlights. Aldrich is dazzling to watch in her red wig and emerald gown as her character seduces Hoffman, particularly against the backdrop of a jaw-dropping stage — so magnificent that it also earned applause from the audience as soon as the curtains opened. Set in a meticulously designed Venetian brothel and equipped with ornate columns, viewers are treated to a simulated view of the city and a canal where Giulietta makes her life.
Act III features soprano Diana Damrau, who was initially billed as playing all four of the heroines. She portrays Antonia and Stella. In this final act, Damrau knocka it out of the park as a young woman who is forbidden by her father to sing, as it could lead to her death due to her weak health. When Hoffman learns of this, he also begs her to stop singing, but Antonia—too passionate and proud of her talent—allows the villainous Dr. Miracle to entice her to sing. Damrau enchants with her powerful voice, but also exudes a sense of hysteria that seems to overtake Antonia as she belts out a frenzied solo, unable to stop herself before she collapses to her death.
In addition to Damrau's powerful performance, tenor Christopher Mortagne steals the spotlight with his performance of Frantz, a deaf but loyal servant to Antonia's father. The audience receives a short bout of comedic relief, complete with Mortagne's charming newspaper trick, before Antonia's tragedy unfolds.
Van Horn replaced Nicolas Testé—also Damrau's husband—who could not perform due to bronchitis. While he was missed, Van Horn did not disappoint, despite the short amount of time he had to learn his characters' lines, as he portrayed all four villains (Lindorf, Coppélius, Dapertutto and Dr. Miracle). Van Horn's villains were certainly wicked, but delightfully so giving each what seemed like a consciously cliché evil laugh. His best and most amusing portrayal, however, undoubtedly lies in Coppélius, the antagonist in Act I. Coppélius, a conman, seeks revenge on Hoffman and Nicklausse for giving him a bad check for a pair of glasses, and he gets it when he reveals that Olympia is a doll, breaking Hoffman's heart. Van Horn rushes to the stage, prompting laughter as he holds a pair of fake eyes and an actual doll, a look of mad triumph on his face as Hoffman grapples with the fact that his love was never real.
With the LA Opera's rendition of "The Tales of Hoffman," audiences get a magnetic cast who infuse every minute with laughter, adventure, and unadulterated talent. A comedy and drama all wrapped into one brilliant show, a nearly-four opera that is worth every second.
"The Tales of Hoffman" runs through April 15th at the LA Opera. For more information, visit www.laopera.org.
Contact Contributor Agnessa Kasumyan at firstname.lastname@example.org.