Tales of Hoffman, being staged by the Augusta Opera, is an unfinished work featuring four connected stories and performers playing multiple parts.
The piece, composed by Jaques Offenbach and based on the stories of E.T.A. Hoffmann, centers on the character of Hoffman - the extra "n" excised by the powers of artistic license - who spends a drunken evening spinning tales of his romantic turmoils. Each act tells another story - of his love for a mechanical doll he believes to be real, a consumptive lover laid low by her desire to sing and a crafty manipulator tasked with stealing Hoffman's reflection.
"The piece is fascinating because you really do get to see the scope of a character," said Drew Slatton, who plays Hoffman in the Augusta Opera production. "You see him as a cynical old drunk, but then you get to go back and see how the character progresses from the innocence of youth, developing as an artist and a character."
Although Mr. Slatton plays only a single character, other performers are tasked with bringing four to life. Susan Wheeler, who plays Olympia, Giulietta, Antonia and Stella - the collected loves of Hoffman - said shifting persona four times in a single performance requires a special sort of discipline.
"A lot of this is pacing," she said. "It's about stamina. I mean, a lot of these parts are so different, and they require different things from the performer."
Marc Embree, who plays a quartet of antagonists, said that shifting characters is particularly challenging, and rewarding, in the world of Hoffman because it is a piece that deftly mixes high comedy with dark human emotion.
"That's one of the great things about it," he said. "You get to do so many things. You are always challenged with finding the balance, the balance between the zaniness and the darkness and the eeriness."
Because the composer died just as the original Tales of Hoffman prepared to go into rehearsal, nobody is sure what the final product might have looked like. Offenbach was famous for editing his piece not only during the rehearsal process but also after the first performances. As a result, current productions can vary in length, tone, even plot. The Augusta Opera production, for instance, features an uplifting finale.
"This is only my third production of this, but every one I have done has been different," Mr. Slatton said. "That's part of what's amazing about this piece."
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