January 18, 2011 | 9:30am
The Tales of Hoffmann, presented by the Florida Grand Opera and opening at the Arsht Center Saturday night, is a 19th century, three-act opera by German-born French composer Jacques Offenbach.
And, as it is with the best operas, the stirring tale involves forbidden love, ominous symbolism and, of course, tragic untimely deaths. But unlike other operas, Tales
also features enchanted mirrors, trippy magic goggles, and animatronic sex dolls. Now that's an opera.
Based on the short stories by German fantasy and horror author E.T.A. Hoffmann, with the French libretto written by Jules Barbier, Tales of Hoffman is the story of the poet Hoffmann and his drunken odyssey of love. He must chose between the Muse and her rival, Stella. Because the Muse is a supernatural broad, she uses all the power cosmic at her disposal (the spirit realm, disguises, spells, that sort of thing) to win Hoffmann's love. It's a lot like The Bachelor, except more ass-kicky and awesome.
To pull off such an epically awesome opera, you need an equally epically awesome conductor. And the FGO has found theirs for this limited engagement of Hoffman in Cuban-born Lucy Arner. Arner is making her Florida Grand Opera debut and, as an added bonus of ass-kickery, she is the first Cuban-born female to conduct an opera in Miami. And that's kind of a big deal. How big of a deal?
"Female conductors are still a bit of a rare breed," she tells us. "To be Cuban, female and a conductor is a double badge of distinction. I'm very proud to be able to do this here. Miami is, in a very real sense, a home for all ex-patriot Cubans. I myself spent a brief period of time here and do have family here, so there's always a part of me here in Miami."
Arner is recognized throughout the country as a true singer's conductor, and a conductor who draws out great performances as well as keeping the cast and orchestra finely coordinated throughout her respective musicals and operas.
She says that her vocal background and tradition has helped her to understand what singers need musically, learning to be flexible and meeting the needs of the vocalists as well as the music, to put forth great performances.
So what can we expect from her conducting of Tales of Hoffman, a classic yet trippy tale of love and fantasy? "The audience will see that there's good deal of darkness in Offenbach's work, " Arner says.
"It's a bit of a different kind of opera because Offenbach is a composer that has his roots in operetta. Since Hoffmann was a real person that contributed to other art forms, they are also going to see references to other things. For instance, people that go to the ballet are going to recognize the character of Coppelius, referring to the ballet Copellia about the doll. Also, it's not music that is difficult to access. It's actually a great opera because it has a lot of fairy tale elements and beautiful music, as well as wonderful signing from this cast in particular."
And it also has the first Cuban-born female composer to hit Miami. And an animatronic sex doll? Yes, that too.
The Tales of Hoffman opens at the Arsht Center (1300 Biscayne Blvd) Saturday night and runs through February 5th. Curtains rise at 7 p.m. Tickets start at $10. Visit fgo.org or arshtcenter.org
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