This unusual venture involves three Canadian opera companies and a bit of intrigue.
"The Tales of Hoffman" was set up as the first of a proposed series of cooperative touring productions. The opera was to have played several performances in Montreal and two in Hamilton with subsequent stops in western Canada.
But a giant snag was encountered when Montreal's theater went on strike after just one performance.
So, after an unexpected hiatus, the tour begins in Hamilton with two performances. In the collaborative mix, it's L'Opera de Montreal's production, Opera Hamilton's hall and orchestra, and the Toronto-based Canadian Opera Company's chief conductor Richard Bradshaw in the pit.
The good news is that, as observed at the dress rehearsal, these diverse forces all seem to work well with each other in a complex opera with four set changes and some 16 prominent roles. This logistic and budgetary problem is traditionally solved by having some of the singers handle three or four roles. In this production tenor Franco Farina sings the role of Hoffmann, whose tavern revelry in the Prologue prompts his storytelling flashbacks to amorous incidents in which he is humiliated successively by a mechanical mannequin, a singer, and a courtesan, three soprano roles. Farina's voice carves graceful lyric phrases, has a narrow but pleasing focus for the most part, with enough reserve for good power and projection up top, and only occasionally in the latter going got a trifle wiry.
Baritone Robert McFarland's evil characterizations of the heavy roles of Lindorf, Coppelius, Dr. Miracle and Dappertutto were consistently threatening in their reserve while his voice was strong and resonant.
Helene Fortin was a very convincing mechanical doll, her gestures quirky and machine-like, her voice a truly lovely coloratura. Lyne Fortin (no relation to Helene) sang with refined lyric purity as Antonia the singer, a trace of shrillness up top on rare occasion, while Nadia Pelle was very persuasive as the courtesan Giulietta and sang with a dramatic but focused sound and a colorful, vibrant edge.
Others with major commitments were Odette Beaupre, Pierre Charbonneau and Gordon Gietz.
Sets by Michael Egan, from the opening rathskeller through the doll works to the Venetian palace are first rate.
Director Bernard Uzan gave every indication of knowing just how to handle the often crowded sets, moving his singers purposefully and naturally, while Bradshaw's tight control and workable balances made the musical continuity equally natural.
Offenbach's opera "The Tales of Hoffmann"
Presented by Opera Hamilton, produced by L'Opera de Montreal.
Directed by Bernard Uzan, conducted by Richard Bradshaw, starring tenor Franco Farina and baritone Robert McFarland.
Performances Thursday and Saturday at 8 p.m. in the Great Hall, Hamilton Place, Hamilton, Ont.