Riverbend Opera takes on ‘The Tales of Hoffmann’

June 15, 2011

Taking on the sophistications of an opera like Offenbach’s “Tales of Hoffmann,” even in a concert performance, is an ambitious stretch for any small local company, but taking it on without a stage director is just foolish. Concerts may not involve sets or costumes, but there is some acting expected and, for a cast of singers of mixed experience and ability, acting often can save the show.

Case in point, the Riverbend Opera Company, in the middle of a four-performance run of “Tales” in four venues. On Tuesday, in the spare space of St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church on the Southwest waterfront, many of the less-experienced singers were left without the coaching that might have made them credible actors.

There was some good singing and compelling acting. Kevin Courtemanche, who has a string of roles under his belt, was a believable Hoffmann. With a voice that far outweighed those of the other male characters (and that pinged off the hall’s hard surfaces sometimes painfully), he projected pathetic self-delusion and empathy. All three women in these “Tales” rose to the challenge. Catherine Wethington as Olympia, the automaton, sang with the edgy sound that a mechanical doll might make and nailed her halting lines and mechanical movements. Melissa Chavez, as Giulietta, was a courtesan voluptuous in voice and looks, and Linda Kiemel was properly pitiable as Antonia, doomed to die for singing.

Many in the rest of the cast and the chorus struggled with pitch, vocal production, ensemble and stage presence. Conductor and Chorus Master Molly Khatcheressian, who paced things quite well, should have dealt with the pitch problems. A stage director might have dealt with the rest. Pianist Brad Rinaldo was a reliable but heavy-handed “orchestra.”

Reinthaler is a freelance writer.

Riverbend’s last two performances of “Tales” are Friday, as part of Opera on Lake Barcroft in Falls Church, and Sunday, at Providence Presbyterian Church in Fairfax. For more information, go to www.riverbendopera.com.

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