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The Pick: The Tales of Hoffman, a comic opera that’s actually funny

Andriana Chuchman as Olympia, Steven Cole as Cochenille (i.e. the Igor role) and Michael Barrett as Spalanzani (Image: Michael Cooper)

There’s funny, and then there’s opera funny. You know, the kind of lost-in-surtitled-translation wit or pro-forma buffoonery that might elicit a chuckle here or a stifled guffaw there, but rarely any real belly laughter. The humour in the Canadian Opera Company’The Tales of Hoffman, now on stage in a visually striking production at the Four Seasons Centre, isn’t just opera funny, though: it’s straight-up, knee-slapping funny. Sure, the production runs for three-and-a-half hours, and large chunks of the plot only make sense after a glass of wine during intermission. But when it’s funny? It’s funny.

Quick plot summary: Hoffman, a poet, gets drunk and recalls his three great loves in a series of flashbacks. The opera’s humour mostly comes courtesy of Andriana Chuchman, the young Canadian soprano who plays Olympia, a steampunk robot that’s the first object of the hapless Hoffman’s love. In her famous aria, “Les oiseaux dans la charmille,” Olympia prattles on about love. And then stops. And then starts again. And then stops. You see, she’s run out of juice (she’s a robot, after all), and requires a shock of electricity from her inventor, Spalanzani (who, incidentally, seems to be wearing a Nintendo Power Glove on his right hand).

The only problem: the electricity sends her flying off the handle, and she gets more and more excited (and amorous) as she goes. She darts about. She dances, scandalously close, with the still-clueless Hoffman (he thinks she’s a real human). And then, in an impish bit of physical comedy, she shoves the electrodes down her top and up her dress and lets out a suspiciously orgasmic “Oui! Ah!”—all the while looking like the Bride of Frankenstein’s younger sister. When we saw the production last Saturday, the crowd was falling out of their seats.

The details: To May 14. $45–318. Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, 145 Queen St. W., 416-363-8231, coc.ca

P.S.: If you don’t think you can make it through three-plus hours of opera, why not pay $12 for the standing room tickets and duck out after the first act?

 

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