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You might have heard the melodious Barcarolle on the soundtracks from Titanic, Life is Beautiful or even Elvis Presley’s version in GI Blues.
After 100 years, the music of Jacques Offenbach’s opera The Tales of Hoffmann still lives on.
It was last heard by Capetonian audiences in 1998, but the Cape Town Opera (CTO) is bringing it back to the Artscape Theatre next week.
Based on short stories written by the eccentric Ernst Theodor Wilhelm Hoffmann, the opera combines magical horror and romance.
The opera will be steered by acclaimed baritone, opera director and producer Angelo Gobbato, who has come out of retirement to direct the cast of CTO and UCT Opera School in a production designed by Michael Mitchell and conducted by Kamal Khan.
Retired since 2005 as chief executive of CTO and at the end of 2008 as head of UCT Opera School, this is the second time Gobbato will direct The Tales of Hoffmann, since his last effort in 1972.
It seems retirement has made him restless as he’s since directed new productions of La Bohème and L Fanciulla del West for the Teatre Principal de Palma in Mallorca, Spain. Last year he directed Le nozze di Figaro for Opera Africa and Bravo Opera Africa for them this year.
“You retire because you give up a full-time job, but that doesn’t mean you stop being creative,” chuckles Gobbato.
His creativity is put to the test in directing The Tales of Hoffmann.
“It’s a difficult and complex opera with big casting. It’s an expensive piece because it’s magical and takes place in so many places, but at the same time gives exposure to a large number of singers.”
The opera centres on Hoffmann who tells the weird stories of three women he’s been besotted with, and the bizarre ways in which these ladies have exited his life.
From the first love, Olympia, who turns out to be a robot, to the second, Antonia, who dies from singing too much, and the third, Giulietta, who accidentally drinks poison.
“What’s interesting is that unlike other operas, it’s not a complete work of art, as Offenbach died before completing it. In the last 20 years research has been done to create a new Hoffmann, but this particular version is based on the traditional one as the latest is too expensive.
“I think we’ve got a version Cape Town hasn’t seen before. The opera is like The American Horror Story. It’s very Roald Dahl. There’s a disturbing element that lurks under a shiny surface.
“I felt it was best to use a contemporary vision for the stage. The orchestra is big with romantic orchestration and will be hidden behind the black screen so that we can use a much bigger sound to give a new theatre sound.”
Though the opera is sung in French, there will be English subtitles on a screen above the stage and each performance will be preceded by a talk in the Orchestra Rehearsal Room at Artscape, 45 minutes before curtain-up.
• Tales of Hoffmann, Artscape, Shows: Nov 24, 27, 28 and 29 at 7.30pm, November 25 at 6pm. R125 to R175 at Computicket.