A poet, a muse and a bunch of students go into a bar...
Kennet Opera: The Tales of Hoffman in the Great Hall, Shaw House, Newbury from Friday, February 2 to Sunday 4. Review by ANNE WARE
A POET, a Muse and a bunch of students go into a bar! It’s clear that the locals are used to Hoffman’s alcohol fuelled musings and tonight he offers to tell them about the loves (and losses) of his life. We are transported to Paris, Venice and Munich where, in three acts, we learn tales of deceit, unrequited love and tragedy.
This production, part spoken by the cast, has humour, pathos and just a touch of the macabre.
Ant Goffart, was a very convincing Hoffman; he has a lovely yearning quality to his tenor range which emphasised the vulnerability and the self-delusion of his ill-fated love affairs. It’s a demanding role and he proved up to the task.
He was well supported by the lead women - Maddie Smart, as the mechanical doll Olympia, wearing a wonderful pink confection, sang a challenging coloratura piece “every grove with birds laden” with great confidence and accuracy, whilst maintaining her jerking puppet like movements.
Giulietta, played by Tamsin Slatter was very convincing as the manipulative Courtesan trying to obtain Hoffman’s reflection for the reward of a hefty jewel. Her duet with Hoffman “In my heart, I implore thee” was a highlight.
Next, we hear of Antonia, played by Rosy Robinson. As with the previous two lovers she has a fairly short time on set but a has a wonderful aria, swiftly followed by a trio (with Susan Moore playing her mother and Duncan Powell as the evil Dr Miracle) which were beautifully sung. Her voice soared “then my soul shall fly”, as she succumbed to death.
Nicklaus, Hoffmans faithful companion, was played by Cathy Black. The famous “Barcarole” duet with Giulietta at the beginning of act 2 was a delight. In the Epilogue, Nicklaus reveals herself as the poet’s muse; persuading him that, after such ill-fated love affairs “your muse who’ll sooth your every dream and bring forth that lyric stream.”
There are moments of comedy. I did enjoy Steve Schollars’ inventor, rocking a steam punk vibe and controlling Olympia with his radio-controlled hand set.
I chuckled as the students decide to stay in the bar rather than watch act two of Don Giovanni “never agree to dinner invitations with statues!”.
Special mention for Oliver Williams on piano accompaniment, who certainly deserved a pint of Pilsner after his hard work and congratulations to Kennet Opera for tackling such a challenging piece.