Opera review: Stellar bass leads the fine voices at Seagle Colony’s ‘Hoffman’

Exceptional singing and inventive costume designs were the hallmarks of the Seagle Colony’s Thursday

Exceptional singing and inventive costume designs were the hallmarks of the Seagle Colony’s Thursday night production of Offenbach’s “The Tales of Hoffmann” at the Oscar Seagle Memorial Theatre. It was the second night of a four-night run.

The large cast, whose median age is probably around 21, did a good job singing in French. Director David Lefkowich had to work miracles to block them because the space on stage is so small and the set, designed by Richard Kagey, was on several levels. All that was forgotten when bass Anthony Reed entered.

Reed played the devil, whose guise was hidden within four different characters in a libretto that Jules Barbier and Michel Carre wrote based on the supernatural tales of E.T.A. Hoffmann. Reed relished the role, adding bits of stage craft that had the large crowd laughing. But it was his voice that amazed.

Only 21, his voice is already fully developed, wonderfully regulated from top to bottom and completely controlled. His projection was effortless, his technique fluid and clear. Reed spun out his tones like fine caramel — sweet and smooth. The Colony’s artistic director Darren Woods calls him a “baby bass” and says those words in awed tones. Indeed, Reed’s future seems assured, especially since he also has a flair for acting.

Soprano Cassie Glaeser as the courtesan Giulietta and the virginal girl Antonia also impressed with her big, lush voice and confident delivery. Soprano Jeni Houser, a recent Metropolitan Opera Regional winner, sang only briefly as Olympia, the mechanical doll. But the acclaimed Patrice Munsel, who was in the audience and is a Colony patron and who sang the role at the Met, said she couldn’t believe her ears. She called Houser’s aria with its vast range coupled with having to move mechanically, incredible. Also, according to Woods, Houser hit a high G-sharp, something he said he’d never hear anyone do.

As Hoffmann, tenor Christopher Trapani had to do a lot of singing. His voice, which is dark and almost baritone in quality, soared on some arias; other times he seemed to be working hard. His acting also ranged from being slightly stiff and seeming to wonder what he was doing out on stage to getting passionately involved with the scene or lyrics. His stage kisses with Glaeser were good — not always easy to perform convincingly — and he did all right in the sword fight scene.

Pat Seyller dressed all these players with interesting choices: the men’s chorus was in black and white checks; Giulietta had a rich, red velvet gown; the mixed chorus was in leaf green coats and fez-like hats. English supertitles were relevant. Still, the production was occasionally uneven and Sean Jeffries’ lighting tended to create shadows. Christopher Devlin and R. Jason Smith provided the enthusiastic piano support.

The last performance of “Tales” is at 8 p.m. tonight.

Categories: Entertainment

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