Poor Offenbach did not live to see his own opera "Tales of Hoffmann" performed, but we might imagine he would have enjoyed it immensely. Director Renaud Doucet gives us the chance to do so. In Doucet's whimsical production that opened Boston Lyric Opera's new season Friday night at the Shubert Theatre, the composer himself leaps into the action. He is first seen as a bronze statue, frozen in the past, but he quickly comes to life and strolls right out of his monumental pose to join the fray, keeping tabs on his work in progress, and even stealing a few small parts along the way.
Doucet's staging is full of these fantastical touches to accompany Hoffmann's darkly comic head trip, though the composer's presence is the most charming. André Barbe's sets are covered with Escher-like drawings, adding to the play of illusions. Barbe also did the highly imaginative costuming, which was at its best in Act I at Spalanzani's house. (Olympia becomes a kind of malfunctioning period sexbot.) The creative pair goes too far in Act Two, with a giant puppet representation of Antonia's mother that dominates the stage and draws attention away from the otherwise alluring, deeply felt performance of Georgia Jarman, who sang all of Hoffmann's loves.
Baritone Gaétan Laperrière, while not always consistent, brought some vocal elegance to his performance of Hoffmann's villains. Matthew DiBattista as the composer himself, sang little but managed to loom large over the entire production. The tenor role of Hoffmann is long and high, and Gerard Powers, clearly husbanding his resources at various points, negotiated it well. Michèle Losier impressed with her consistently warm and lustrous tone as La Muse and Nicklausse. She also played up her own romantic interest in Hoffmann as he journeyed from woman to woman.
Keith Lockhart kept things flowing smoothly in the pit, though there were times when one wished for a bit more elasticity. But overall this was a strong season-opener for BLO, one of the more enjoyable productions the company has mounted in some time.
Jeremy Eichler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.