Last week, Santa Fe hosted its annual conference called Creativity and Madness. It brings together medical professionals who link the topics through presentations on visual artists, composers and writers. Attendees look forward to evenings at the Santa Fe Opera, and the company doesnt disappoint. Every night, the Santa Fe Opera exhibits a little madness and a lot of creativity.
As reported here earlier, the 2010 season is highlighted by a world premiere of Life is a Dream and a moving production of Puccinis Madame Butterfly. The rest of the Santa Fe season is equally spectacular, if quite different. The production of Jacques Offenbachs fevered romantic dream, Tales of Hoffmann, is fluid, luxurious and inventive. Its the musical mother of all hangovers in that it illuminates German angst replete with dreams, demons, hallucinations and stories of unrequited love. In contrast, the company serves a bracing pot of English tea with extra lemon and fish cakes. Benjamin Brittens only comedic opera, Albert Herring, spoofs British propriety in this coming-of-age marvel.
Here are some highlights: Tales of Hoffmann is more operetta than grand opera, a rich musical tapestry that threads together three dark and dreamy tales of love gone wrong. At the center is the Romantic archetype of an anguished poet, E.T.A. Hoffmann. His stories captured the publics attention for their nightmarish qualities. Sung compellingly by tenor Paul Groves, Hoffmann fiendishly pens his stories on stage and morphs into his own delusions. It all takes place in his favorite tavern where students cajole him to entertain them by telling his stories.
Directed by 2009 Olivier Award-winner Christopher Alden, the production has a lavish period look with any number of contemporary edges. Alden counters the works overt emotionalism with tongue-in-cheek conceits, theater seats that slide on and off stage, and thoroughly inventive movement.
The director sets this visual subtext in motion at the very beginning. Hoffmanns muse, Nicklausse (brilliantly danced, acted and sung by mezzo Kate Lindsey) seductively slides off an upright piano, onto tavern tables and up the leg of the villain Lindorf (portrayed with oily charm by Wayne Tigges). This continuous, slow-motion choreography may seem distracting to some, but its an ironic motif that visually links all the parts into an aesthetic whole.
Hoffmann survives his mid-life meltdown by returning to the tavern and reality. Albert Herring experiences another life transition in an entirely different manner. Herring, a shy, English adolescent who comes of age in spite of rigid social structures and the tomato-aspic elders who enforce them.
Sung by marvelous young Met Opera audition winner Alek Shrader, Albert is thrust unwillingly into the village spotlight and grows up overnight. Like Hoffmann, he survives his own nightmare, but he emerges in charge of his life full of hope.
One of the many delights in this comedy is Director Paul Curran and Designer Kevin Knights decision to dramatize all the set changes. Lady Billows drawing room rolls up to become the Herring shop, which in turn slides out to become the village green. The village is cast in miniature on a highly raked stage, creating the character without which this satire couldnt take place. The inimitable international soprano Christine Brewer gives Lady Billows a comic, convention-bound interpretation as the grand village patroness.
To round out the season, Santa Fe has brought back its wildly successful 2007 production of The Magic Flute. But thats for another day.
Judith Reynolds is a Durango writer, artist and critic. Reach her at judithlreynolds@ yahoo.com.