Send in the clowns! The circus is in town, but it is not where you would expect it to be. The Edmonton Opera is raising the curtains and running away with the circus at the Jubilee Auditorium this week with the Opera’s latest travelling circus production, Les Contes d’Hoffmann. True to all that made the circus intriguing at its inception, the production has no shortage of eccentric, eye-catching characters; a contortionist, a bearded woman, a strongman, a wolf man, and a mad scientist are just a few of the actors that play a role in making this opera so intriguing. It will be a challenge for audiences to not fall under the spell of this performance as the mystery of the circus, with the help of fantastic costuming and a well constructed set, spark curiosity.
In three acts the opera sings the story of the three extraordinary love affairs of the title character Hoffmann’s life. Never leaving the fascinating world of performance, Hoffman experiences three very different kinds of love. Beginning as a young man, he is enamoured with a woman whose beauty seems to defy the laws of physics, but who, it is discovered, as her robotic arm flies across the stage hilariously, is not capable of reciprocating the love. Drunk and lovesick, Hoffman falls deeply in love with a woman whose enchanting voice takes her from him, and finally, a courtesan catches his eye and the same lust that brings them together tears them apart. This play was a superb selection for the Edmonton Opera’s 2012/2013 season. While showing a darker side to life under the big top the magic of the circus is irresistibly enchanting. The set and costume design were very well executed and this performance is sure to be remembered by audiences for years to come. I know I won’t forget it.
Les Contes d’Hoffmann is not the first time that the Edmonton Opera has had me leaving the Jubilee with a smile on my face. The Edmoton Opera has pleasantly surprised me time and again for over a year. I wasn’t always like this. Two years ago I had never listened to a single aria (opera song) for longer than thirty seconds unless I fell asleep on a Saturday afternoon with CBC radio playing in the background. If people mentioned opera, I used to think it was something for my grandma’s generation. I listen to many different types of music and consider myself a music lover but opera used to be the genre on my blacklist of music. This aversion to opera had no real cause other than my preconceived notions and the stereotypes that opera was boring, opera was for old people, opera was pretentious, opera was anything but what I was interested in. Then, in September of 2011, to meet my fine arts requirements, I accidentally registered in a Music 100 course where I was the odd duck in a room filled with practicing music students. The class was called The History of Western Art Music. On the first day of class our professor enthusiastically reviewed a two page list of all of the possible performances in the coming year we could attend to write a review on. On this list was the Edmonton Opera’s performance of Pagliacci. I had no idea what I was getting into but this professor had all the exuberance of an eight year old going to Disneyland when she described it so I thought I would give this “opera thing” a try.
I went to the Opera’s office in the Winspear Centre and was sweet-talked by the woman working at the desk into buying an “Explorer’s Membership” for 18 to 25 year olds for $20 that would make tickets to every show of the season only $20. Pagliacci, the story of a sad clown, last October, was the first opera that I ever went to in my life. I was apprehensive walking into the Jubilee but when the lights went up at the end of the performance I was startled to realize I had bawled like a colicy baby through the entire opera. It was stunning, it was heartbreaking, and it was in Edmonton. You do not have to travel thousands of kilometers to the likes of Toronto, or Vancouver, as I hear many of my colleagues lament, to find accessible arts and culture. Our city has a thriving, diverse, arts community which we can be proud of thanks to the work of organizations like the Edmonton Opera. In the last year alone I have learned amazing things about a genre which I once wrote off as outdated and boring. The Edmonton Opera has done some incredible things in the seasons which I have been privileged enough to attend and Hoffmann is another production the Opera and the City of Edmonton can be proud of.
Les Contes d’Hoffmann is playing at the Jubilee February 5th (tonight) and 7th. An added bonus to the Explorer’s membership is that for every show where you bring a guest that is between 18 and 25 years old, their ticket is only $20 as well. Tickets for Hoffmann can be purchased here for $40 for adults. While this price may be a little steep for a university student, it is well worth it to see this show, and if you’ve never been to the opera before, try something new, have a fun night out, I DARE YOU!
Photo credit: Kelly Redinger