A Tale of Two Hoffmanns: Tenor Gregory Turay does double duty this spring
March Madness can mean so many things.
Opening March 5, UK Opera Theatre will present Jacques Offenbach’s French fantasy The Tales of Hoffmann at the Lexington Opera House. David Lefkowich, director of Kentucky Opera’s November 2013 production of “Simon Boccanegra” comes to Lexington to stage one of the most high-maintenance operas of all time, featuring tenors Jonathan Parham and Gregory Turay.
That’s right, opera lovers: “3 Fantastic Women; 3 Colorful Villains; 1 Poet’s Broken Heart.”
The classic tale first debuted at Opera Comique, Paris, February 10, 1881.
There are two men telling The Tales here, tenor Gregory Turay with gifted newcomer Jonathan Parham.
Olympia, Giulietta and Antonio are the three women whose disillusioning love affairs with Hoffmann are the subject of this enticing musical montage of love, betrayal, bewilderment, trickery and death by song, believe it or not.
Virtuoso Turay is no stranger to opera aficionados, having performed with the Met and originating roles locally, however he is tackling the role of Hoffmann for the first time, saying, “It is one of the most challenging tenor roles in the repertory. The reason for that is that the tessitura [its average pitch] is relentlessly high and the tenor is onstage for almost the entire opera; when he is offstage, it is usually just for a costume change.”
Turay says of guest director, David Lefkowich, “He has brought so much energy, enthusiasm, and a wealth of experience and knowledge to our rehearsals and production. He works with the top companies and top singers of the opera world, and the students are receiving invaluable experience and learning from the best our business has to offer; it’s quite a treat for them.”
He adds, “This being my first time in this role, I was deeply struck at how beautiful all of the music is from the opera. Everyone knows the barcarolle music from the second act; or they mostly likely will remember when they see the opera. However, each act has gems like that which help to make this, for me, one of the greatest operas I’ve ever worked on. It’s a masterpiece for its lush melodies and its beauty.”
“On another note…the role is actually perfect for me now at my age. Very glad to have accepted the challenge!”
Since Hoffmann truly is one of the most challenging of the tenor repertoire, many great tenors avoid it purposely. For a 24-year-old to tackle it is an incredible feat. Even the most gifted and famous performers struggle vocally through this role.
Parham says the role “is more demanding than any other I’ve ever done. It requires a very agile and flexible tenor voice.”
“The most unique thing about this Opera is [that] it’s like having three operas in one opera. The relationship between the heroines and Hoffmann all have different directions. None of the plots in either scene between each of the lovers ties directly to one another. That key point is what sets it apart from any other production.”
Parham admits there are several challenges. “It requires a lot of work to pull off a successful presentation of French Opera. You have to learn every vowel sound, nasal, consonant rules, and etc, to the best of your ability. Strive for perfection! The second thing is just the nature of singing such a heavy role. It’s tough for a younger tenor like me to do this role because this is a role that most tenors do later in their careers. This role requires a great sense of pacing and calm. It requires a solid technical background, and it requires the stamina to be able to sing well throughout the whole show. To whom much is given much is required,” he adds.
It is clear Parham enjoyed working with his counterpart. “The funniest thing happened just yesterday. Gregory Turay and I were shadowing each other for staging purposes and we started to sing at the same time. When I realized both of us were singing together, I harmonized with him throughout the rest of the piece. The other principal characters laughed so much. It was a great time,” he laughs.
Those who go see The Tales of Hoffmann (Les Contes D’Hoffmann) by Jacques Offenbach will be treated to tremendous voices, swashbuckling derring-doers, gorgeous soloists and choruses singing airs of merriment and arias of betrayal as Hoffmann tells his drinking buddies about his three heartbreaking love affairs.
This article appears on pages 11 of the March 2015 print issue of Ace.
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