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Steampunk, the Supernatural and Decadence in The Tales of Hoffmann at UH

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There's a mechanical doll. Also a singer, a seductress and a woman protected by her father. And Hoffman loves them all. Billed as a mixture of "steampunk, the supernatural and romantic decadence,"

Jacques Offenbach's opera fantasy The Tales of Hoffmann is coming back to the University of Houston Moores Opera House for the third time and grad student and teacher Tyler Beck is singing one of the four Hoffman roles.

"This opera has a lot to offer the audience. There's a lot of drama, there's a lot of melodrama but there's also so much comedy and each act is based on a different story by E.T.A.Hoffman," Beck said.

Performed in French with English surtitles, the music can be tricky, particularly for college students. So Buck Ross, the director of Moores Opera Center decided to exploit his "bumper crop of tenors" and switch out the leads not between shows but between acts.

"They'll be dressed exactly the same all the way through," he added. "Thematically it works really well too because we're seeing Hoffman at different stages in his life from innocent to one that's frankly rather drunk and depraved at the end."

The point of a UH college production, unlike professional operas, is to give as many students a chance to shine as possible, Ross said. "The show is a terrific showcase for virtually every singer we've got." So in addition to all the Hoffmans, there's a huge cast, Ross said. "We've probably got 80 singers on stage. It's quite an extravaganza."

Adding in steampunk elements was a natural Ross said. The piece was written in 1881, the show Offenbach did right before that was an adaptation of Jules Verne's A Voyage to the Moon. "Jules Verne is sort of cited as a foundation of the steampunk movement," Ross said. Besides the mechanized doll, "the show is framed in a tavern. We've made it into a giant brewery so we have lots of big tanks and steam and bubblers going all throughout to create that kind of atmosphere. The show is done in three parts with two intermissions and clocks in at about three hours.

The Tales of Hoffman runs October 24-27 at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Monday and 2 p.m. Sunday. The University of Houston's Moores Opera House (Entrance 16 off Cullen Boulevard).  .Call 713-743-3313 or visit www.vendini.com/ticket. $20. Students and seniors $12.

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