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Tenor Robert Frankenberry sang all the Hoffmann roles, with Elizabeth Downey as his Muse or Nicklausse. The covers for these roles were Andrew Boag and Mary Beth Sederburg. Frankenberry had previously conducted Hoffmann elsewhere and his familiarity with the score (and the piano in Act 3 -- he actually played the instrument, instead of faking it!) plus his added maturity were telling. His acting was superb, and one had to look really hard to be sure it was him in Act 1, after the rowdy Prologue. It was a very large role for the younger Boag, who should benefit from more experience. Although his voice has a nice quality, he tended to push a bit in his upper notes, which also occasionally affected his pitch. Downey has a pleasant voice and an easy stage presence, and can only benefit from more acting experience. The more mature Sederburg, on the other hand, utilized her experience to good effect.
The four villains -- Councillor Lindorf, Dr Coppelius, Dappertutto and Dr Miracle -- were given distinct individual life by baritone Patrick McNally. He also covered Schlemil, in another adept portrayal. I predict a busy future for this tall, dark and handsome young man with not only a wonderful voice, but also a sense of humor. (He'll be Dr Falke at Longwood Opera this fall, and got a head start on the costuming and make-up by channeling the good Dr in his role of Dr Miracle.)
Hoffmann's three loves received well-developed portrayals from Erica Kudisch as Olympia 'The Doll', Alexis Bloom (and Julie Lawrence) as Giulietta 'The Courtesan' and Rebecca Rumfelt as Antonia 'The Singer.' Kudisch also has a sense of humor as did her costumer. It was a very far-out costume to match her hysterical, but very well-sung rendition of the wind-up doll. Taking place at a technical college in the early 1960s provided ample opportunity for early computer wizardry. Consequently, she glowed and blinked (in multi-colored lights) depending on the state of her wind-up motor, ably tended to by tenor Henry St George Tucker as Cochenille in a bit of 'mad scientist' mode. Cover for this role was Sam Buzzelli, when soprano Joan Russell appeared as Olympia.
Tenor Jeffrey Gross went right to the top but not over it as Spalanzani, the professor who created Olympia, only to nearly lose her to Dr Copellius. Gross is a marvelous actor possessed of a light tenor -- a valuable addition to any company. His Franz in Act 3 was a tipsy little masterpiece. (Tucker was the cover for this role on Friday, in a different but no less entertaining fashion. He's excellent in the singing roles -- it's a large voice with a pleasing tone -- but he needs a bit more acting experience.) Gross also covered Nathanael. Matt Dunlap in his first operatic role covered Spalanzani. He has a nice voice and good stage presence, but more experience will stand him in good stead, too. David Svoboda was not quite so convincing as the nerdish Dr Coppelius in his cover role. He's too dignified in appearance to be a nerd!
Patrick McNally (Dappertutto and Julie Lawrence (Giulietta). Photo © 2007 Neil Sederburg
Act 2 came as almost a shock, especially if one is more used to the Met's production of Hoffmann. It was very 'in your face' but very accurate, I think, based on what one reads and hears. The two Giuliettas were very different in appearance: Alexis Bloom is a tall brunette, while Julie Lawrence is a rather petite blonde. Each of them did two performances, and it would truly be difficult to choose between them. Vocally, visually, they were superb, and it's not hard to see why Hoffmann was so obsessed. Zach Lucchette was Schlemil in a rather tepid performance. He sings well and his acting is fine, it just didn't click on opening night. His two cover roles: Crespel and Councillor Lindorf fared much better.
Copyright © 20 September 2007
Kelly Ferjutz, Cleveland USA