Cultist classed it up Saturday night at the Arsht Center for the Florida Grand Opera's second production of the 2011 season, Jacques Offenbach's three-act opera, The Tales of Hoffmann. And since it was this correspondent's first operatic excursion, we took full advantage of FGO's pre-show lecture conducted by Justin Moss, the organization's director of communication and community affairs, and became Offenbach connoisseurs in just a half hour.
Offenbach's opera is based on the short stories of E.T.A Hoffmann, the19th century German author regarded as one of the most influential voices of the Romantic Movement. In his FGO debut, David Pomeroy tackles the role of Hoffmann and delivers a remarkable performance as a lovesick, punch-drunk poet recounting the failed relationships, lost lovers, and betrayal that embody his current obsession, La Stella (Elizabeth Futral).
The Tales of Hoffmann begins with a prologue, where we find Hoffmann drinking heavily after leaving early from a performance of Mozart's Don Giovanni starring Stella. As Hoffman's friends enter the bar, they persuade him to sing a song about Klienzach, a "misshapen creature who loves beauty in vain." Hoffman obliges, but the legend of Kleinzach and an altercation with a conniving lawyer, Lindorf (Bradley Garvin), inspire the drunken poet to share the story of his three loves, Olympia, Antonia, and Giulietta (all played by Elizabeth Futral).
Hoffman's first love, Olympia, is the literal object of his affection. She isn't real, but rather a mechanically engineered doll created by her mad scientist father, Spalanzani (Neal Ferreira). However, Hoffmann does not realize this at first because of the magical goggles he bought from Coppelius (also played by Bradley Garvin), an ophthalmologist/door-to-door salesman of sorts. The glasses blind him from the fact Olympia's not a real human, even though his muse (Katherine Rohrer), disguised as Hoffmann's friend, Nicklausse, does all she can to open his eyes and see an empty puppet.
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Futral's performance of an empty puppet, however, is anything but lifeless. As Olympia, she brilliantly displays her effortless comedic timing and mesmerizing vocals, especially during the reception scene. As several people and whimsical robots gather at Spalanzani's home for Olympia's societal debut, the scientist's "daughter" experiences mechanical glitches in the form of soothing, melodic scales, providing a gentle and comedic escape into the fanciful world of animatronic sex dolls and delusional lovers.
While the second and third acts weren't as quirky as the first -- the costumes weren't as elaborate, and the stories not as entertaining -- the cast's performance was captivating nonetheless. And while the Arsht Center wasn't filled to capacity, the enthusiastic crowd of platinum circle donors, crown jewel society folks, and overall opera aficionados thoroughly enjoyed opening night. "This is one of the best performances we've seen," we overheard walking past the valet, "Elizabeth was just perfect."
We agree, she was perfect, and so was our night at the opera.