Opera review by Lawrence James Kellum | Entertainment Correspondent / November 11, 2011
On Nov.4, Offenbach’s final, greatest, and most serious opera ‘TALES OF HOFFMANN’ miraculously came to fruition at Trinity-on-Main after a devastating week of October snow and subsequent power failures and cast changes that plagued rehearsal schedules for this opening production from the Conn. Lyric Opera, now beginning its eighth season of bringing opera to New Britain and surrounding cities. But, as they say in the theater business, a disastrous rehearsal week means a spectacular opening night, and this was exactly the case on Nov. 4.
‘HOFFMANN” is a bizarre, but gorgeous opera that revolves around the tales told by the titular character as he relives three tragic romances in his unhappy life. Offenbach (best known for his ‘Can-Can” used in Shop-Rite commercials) never lived to see the success of this work, and thus, there are several versions of the piece circulating throughout today’s opera world. Regardless of how it is presented, it requires a large cast and an opera company of stature to pull it off.
This was a performance that can be labeled in the opera industry as an evening of deluxe casting. Deluxe casting can be defined as when established singers who are used to, and fully capable of, singing much longer and far more demanding roles appear onstage in shorter, less taxing parts that don’t even tap half of their potential resources. Such was the case with three out of the five principals in this production. Jurate Svedaite (double duty as the prostitute Giulietta and the dying singer Antonia) is a great Tosca; Galina Ivannikova (the trouser role of Nicklausse) the newest Amneris in “Aida” on the international circuit; and Sarah Asmar (the doll Olympia with her own added high Fs when only high Es are called for) is an up-and-coming Lucia di Lammermoor. Patrons left the house wishing they could have heard so much more from all three.
That said, the evening ultimately still belonged to Michael Wade Lee in the title role. Looking and acting the part of the tormented poet to perfection, he poured out so much honey, cream and satin into the theater that this should, and could, be one of his greatest accomplishments to date, and end up becoming a signature role for this rising tenor star. Newsworthy headlines, however, were made when Jason Switzer flew in on a four day notice to replace an exiting bass-baritone as the multiple villains who ruin Hoffmann’s three romances in each scene. He may not have looked Satanic or ugly enough, but his huge, black, major league voice and tall, imposing presence earned his a glorious ovation at the final curtain. More remarkable, he hadn’t sung this opera in seven years and rose to the challenge like a trouper.
As is always the case with CLO productions, the orchestra of choice was the esteemed Conn. Virtuosi Chamber, conducted by Adrian Sylveen. To quote a Trinity employee, Sylveen goes into such a “zone” when he conducts, so vigorously and spiritually immersed in his craft is he that, occasionally, his forces will drown out the singers, but with musicianship of this caliber, this reporter says let ‘er rip! Another feather in the CLO’s cap is its recent collaboration with the Mystic Ballet, the final step in making an opera company complete.
For more information and tickets to future opera productions at Trinity, or the wonderful holiday concerts planned by the Virtuosi Orchestra, please visit ctlyricopera.org, www.thevirtuosi.org or call 860-229-2072.