This production of The Tales of Hoffmann was the last production commissioned for the company by former Opera Australia Artistic Director, Lyndon Terracini and planned as a showcase for the talents of celebrated Australian coloratura-soprano, Jessica Pratt, who had earlier thrilled home-town audiences with her performances in Lucia di Lammermoor and would now make her role debut playing all four of the Offenbach heroines.
The team responsible for Opera Australia’s much-admired production of II Viaggio a Reims in 2019, Italian wunderkind director, Damiano Michieletto, and his collaborators, set designer, Paolo Fantin, costume designer, Carla Teti and Lighting designer Alessandro Carletti were invited to create this new production and have taken the opportunity to blow off the cobwebs and create a brightly coloured, wildly surrealistic, nightmare world for this production, which would be the first co-production shared with the Royal Opera House for which Opera Australia would not only build all the sets and costumes in its Surry Hills workshop but would also stage the premiere performance in the Sydney Opera House.
Having been postponed in 2021, this brand new production finally received its world premiere in the Sydney Opera House this month, and what a triumph it has turned out to be.
The opera revolves around an intoxicated poet, E.T.A. Hoffmann, (Peruvian tenor, Ivan Ayon Rivas) who entertains his admirers with stories of his four great loves; in this version, an opera singer, an AI doll, a ballet dancer and a courtesan.
The Tales of Hoffmann is described as an opera-fantastique and indeed for this production that is exactly how it is presented Paolo Fantin’s brilliantly, sharp edged setting encompasses the four locations required for the stories while costume designer, Carla Teti, has dreamed up hundreds of colourful, lavish costumes to enchant the eye and satisfy the fertile imagination of director, Damiano Michieletto.
Jessica Pratt more than satisfies the high expectations placed on her in interpreting Hoffmann’s four loves. Not only is her singing exquisite throughout, but she’s also a convincing actress, and the added panache she exhibits in executing several daunting physical challenges created by Michieletto’s concept, sets the bar almost impossibly high for any soprano succeeding her in these roles.
Among them, she’s required to balance on a school desk impersonating a mechanical doll while being pushed around the stage during an uproarious schoolroom scene; and execute several frighteningly realistic falls as a dying ballerina in a sequence seemingly inspired by the famous Moira Shearer film of this opera.
Handsome Croatian bass-baritone, Marko Mimica, making his impressive Australian debut, and Adam Player also each play four roles as various villains and servants respectively, but both escape the physical challenges meted out to Pratt.
Agnes Sarkis, in parrot guise, and Sian Sharp, as a kind of green fairy indiscriminately sprinkling fairy dust, provide intriguing linking characters as Nichlausse and The Muse respectively.
Elsewhere an impressive supporting cast of the company’s finest singers, and the ever-reliable Opera Australia chorus, added lustre to the myriad smaller roles required by this massive opera, while conductor, Guillaume Tourniaire, applied his expertise of Offenbach’s writing to insure that the composer’s scintillating score was given no less than a champagne performance by the Opera Australia Orchestra.
The Tales of Hoffmann
Joan Sutherland Theatre – Sydney Opera House, Bennelong Point, Sydney
Performance: Tuesday 11 July 2023
Season continues to 22 July 2023
Information and Bookings: www.opera.org.au
Image: Iain Henderson as Spalanzani, Jessica Pratt as Olympia and the Opera Australia Chorus in Opera Australia’s 2023 production of The Tales of Hoffmann at the Sydney Opera House – photo by Keith Saunders