Sunday, January 20, 2013

Act II: The Women of Hoffmann

Photo Credit: Teiya Kasahara

 When I initially contemplated the ending in the Tales of Hoffmann, I found myself a bit heartbroken. He spends the Acts of the opera detailing the three great loves throughout his life, yet, he is alone at the end.

His tales begin with Olympia, the automaton, which everybody sees is a robot except for Hoffmann because he's wearing trippy glasses. This is followed by, Antonia, the singer who has a mysterious illness and dies when she sings. Lastly, Giulietta, the courtesan who steals Hoffman's shadow. There is also Stella, the resident diva and current love interest of Hoffmann. There is something comedic but unsettling in Edmonton Opera's new production of Tales of Hoffmann due to the dark fairytale atmosphere created by director, Joel Ivany, and set designer, Camellia Koo,

The source of my feeling of unrest lies with Offenbach's portrayal of Hoffmann's women: they are all controlled by men. Olympia's inventor, Spalanzani, constructs her to entertain and make money with her Doll's song; however, she is disassembled when her purpose has been served. Antonia, is convinced by Dr. Miracle to sing an aria even though she knows it will be the death of her. The courtesean, Giulietta, carries out the orders of Captain Dapertutto to steal Hoffmann's shadow for jewlery. All these women are disposed of or used in some way or another.

Ivany's staging in this new Hoffmann production further explores the female presence within the Opera. In the second half of Act I, Olympia spectators return to the circus tent after having some supper and Spalanzani's assistant, Cochenille, waltzes with a young girl re-entering the stage. While it appears whimsical and innocent, the atmosphere in which it occurs could suggest alternative meanings. It presents an image of the societal expectations that the young girl will eventually have to fulfill as a man leads her through the appropriate steps. In Act III, when we enter into the circus tent where Giulietta works, a male figure supervises a "carousel of women." Scantily clad chorus girls orbit around a communal axis, while a crowd of male patrons stare on with lust and emotional disconnect. The women of Hoffmann are agents controlled by male intent.

Photo Credit: Teiya Kasahara

It is also important to remember that the stories of these three women are told from drunken Hoffmann's memories. It is entirely plausible that these women don't even exist. Perhaps they are just women Hoffmann has seen in passing or they are all different aspects of the same woman. When Stella goes to greet Hoffmann at the end of the Opera, he does not recognize her because he is drunk on the dream of imaginary women.

A person can so easily fall in love with a self-constructed ideal of perfection. The truth lies in choosing to see the flaws and assessing whether love still remains after the illumination of that fact. In order to start creating relationships based on transparency and equality, I think we can benefit from taking off the lenses that distort our reality and begin viewing the world around us with truth.


For more information on performance times and tickets:

Fri 2/1/13 8:00PM:  Jubilee Auditorium
Les Contes d'Hoffmann
Sun 2/3/13 2:00PM:  Jubilee Auditorium
Les Contes d'Hoffmann
Tue 2/5/13 7:30PM:  Jubilee Auditorium
Les Contes d'Hoffmann
Thu 2/7/13 7:30PM:  Jubilee Auditorium
Les Contes d'Hoffmann

No comments: