Review: The Tales of Hoffmann (Canadian Opera Company)

The COC’s Tales of Hoffmann brings whimsy and beauty to Toronto

On the whole, the Canadian Opera Company has produced a truly spectacular 2011-2012 season thus far. Saturday afternoon’s production of The Tales of Hoffmann was no exception. In a season that has featured a great deal of heavier fare, this frothy, fantastical opera by Jacques Offenbach was a nice change of pace.

Tenor Russell Thomas was phenomenal in the title role. The role is an intense, lengthy sing and Mr. Thomas maintained a vibrant, resonant tone throughout. Hoffmann is a drunken poet who is romantically obsessed with a prima donna named Stella. As he pines for her in a crowded bar, he regales his fellow patrons with tales of his past loves. Throughout the narrative he is accompanied by his jealous muse in the guise of his friend and confidante Nicklausse.

Mezzo-Soprano Lauren Segal did a fantastic job as The Muse/Nicklausse.  I especially enjoyed her rich, warm low notes, which had just the right amount of bite. Dramatically, her transition from the feminine muse to Hoffmann’s male friend was very well executed.

The three subjects of Hoffmann’s reminiscences (Olympia, Antonia and Giulietta) were all superb. Olympia is a mechanical doll created by a scientist and it is almost inevitable that her performance of  “Les Oiseaux dans la charmille,” commonly known as The Doll Song, will steal the show. This aria is typically the most anticipated one from this opera. I was heartily impressed by Andriana Chuchman’s rendition of this piece. Not only is her voice crystal clear, sweet and incredibly agile, her portrayal of the robot’s stiff movements and various malfunctions was absolutely hilarious. My companion was blown away by this number.

Steven Cole, performing a number of small, quirky roles was also a huge crowd pleaser. In each scene he demonstrated inspired comedic character acting and voice work. My companion was also quite delighted by him.

The set design of this production was dazzling. Various locations need to be created to tell each tale and the transitions were very well facilitated. Set structures and large scale props being placed on an angle was a theme and highly effective at capturing the fantastical and inebriated nature of the storytelling. The final tale of the opera is set in a brothel and the act opens with the Muse as Nicklausse singing the very recognizable aria “Belle Nuit” as she enters in a gondola. Everything about this act was gorgeous:  the glittering costumes of the courtesans, the highly realistic star-laden backdrop, and the diaphanous curtains billowing in a gentle breeze.

The conductor and orchestra’s interpretation of the score was nuanced and colourful. I thought they did a wonderful job of bringing Offenbach’s playful, yet thoughtful music to life. While the overall tone of this work is light, the score involves a broad range of emotions which were all clearly demonstrated in the orchestra’s playing. There are also some beautiful solos for violin and harp which were masterfully interpreted.

My companion and I both felt this production made for a very fun afternoon at the opera. This work is a welcome addition to the season and is likely to appeal to anyone who enjoys a bit of whimsy.



– The Tales of Hoffman is playing at Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts (145 Queen St. W.) until May 14, 2012.
– Performance dates and times are

  • Tues. April 10, 2012 at 7:30 p.m.
  • Sat. April 14, 2012 at 4:30 p.m.
  • Wed. April 18, 2012 at 7:30 p.m.
  • Sat. April 21, 2012 at 7:30 p.m.
  • Fri. April 27, 2012 at 7:30 p.m.
  • Thurs. May 3, 2012 at 7:30 p.m.
  • Sun. May 6, 2012 at 2 p.m.
  • Tues. May 8, 2012 at 7:30 p.m.
  • Mon. May 14, 2012 at 7:30 p.m.

– Ticket prices range from $45 – $318. Patrons under 30 years of age can purchase tickets for $22. Standing room and rush tickets go on sale at 11:00 am on the day of the performance. Standing room tickets are $12.00, rush tickets are $22.00
– Tickets are available online, or through the box office at 416-363-8231

Photo of Russell Thomas, Keri Alkema, Lauren Segal by Chris Hutcheson