After a dark year in 2020, Union Avenue Opera has made a welcome return to the stage with a fine production of Jacques Offenbach’s masterpiece, Les contes d’Hoffmann (The Tales of Hoffmann).
The company has not, however, returned to its home on Union Avenue. The site of this year’s productions is the Big Top at 3401 Washington Avenue in Grand Center Arts District. The production is open air because the sides of the tent are not in place. This is certainly the preferable configuration during a pandemic. So is the socially distanced seating.
The answer to the most important question is that the sound in the tent is excellent. The singing and the playing are up to Union Avenue’s usual high standard. Scott Schoonover’s conducting is the work of a master.
The orchestra is seated on the stage, leaving no room for a set and only a small area in which the singers can operate. In spite of the limited space, the cast provides uniformly well-conceived and involved performances, interacting with one another tellingly under Mark Freiman’s direction.
As usual, Union Avenue has assembled an accomplished group of singers. The featured performers are William Davenport as Hoffman, Jeremiah Sanders as the all the villains, Brooklyn Snow as all of Hoffmann’s loves, Emma Sorenson as Nicklausse, Liya Khaimova, as Antonia’s Mother, and in multiple roles Anthony Webb, Joel Rogier, Anthony Heinemann, and Randell McGee. Snow’s versatility is especially impressive in the widely differing soprano roles.
A pleasing stage picture is created by Teresa Doggett’s costumes, Patrick Huber’s lighting, Katie Orr’s properties, Theresa Loebl’s hair dressing, and wigs provided by Wigboys.com.
Philip Touchette’s supertitles are highly readable because they are projected on a screen directly behind the orchestra. I wish other supertitle designers would follow Touchette’s practice of identifying characters on their first appearance.