The Tales of Hoffmann is set in Germany and Italy in the early 19th century.
In a tale centered around the depressed poet, Hoffmann, the audience is taken through his fantastical memories of his three greatest past loves. Hoffmann’s Muse, disguised as his friend, Nicklausse, helps protect him, and guide him through his memories.
The three lovers each have their tragic tale, and each have their own faults; the three women all make up parts of his current lover, Stella.
Hoffman relives his tragic love stories, and his most vulnerable moments, eventually returning to the present where he is deep in sorrow, lacking the will to do anything but sleep.
"The Tales of Hoffmann"
Opera in 3 acts
Sung in French
About 2 hours 45 min + intervals
A tavern in Nuremberg: The Muse appears and reveals to the audience her purpose is to draw Hoffmann's attention, and make him abjure all other loves, so he can be devoted to her: poetry. She takes the appearance of Hoffmann's closest friend, Nicklausse. The prima donna Stella, performing Mozart's Don Giovanni, sends a letter to Hoffmann, requesting a meeting in her dressing room after the performance. The letter and the key to the room are intercepted by Councillor Lindorf ("Dans les rôles d'amoureux langoureux" – In the languid lovers' roles), the first of the opera's incarnations of evil, Hoffmann's nemesis. Lindorf intends to replace Hoffmann at the rendezvous. In the tavern, students wait for Hoffmann. He finally arrives, and entertains them with the legend of Kleinzach the dwarf ("Il était une fois à la cour d'Eisenach" – Once upon a time at the court of Eisenach). Lindorf coaxes Hoffmann into telling the audience about his three great loves.
This act is based on a portion of "Der Sandmann".
Hoffmann's first love is Olympia, an automaton created by the scientist Spalanzani. Hoffmann falls in love with her, not knowing Olympia is a mechanical doll ("Allons! Courage et confiance...Ah! vivre deux!" – Come on! Courage and confidence ... Ah! to live!). To warn Hoffmann, Nicklausse, possessing the truth about Olympia, sings a story of a mechanical doll with the appearance of a human, but Hoffmann ignores him ("Une poupée aux yeux d'émail" – A doll with enamel eyes). Coppélius, Olympia's co-creator and this act's incarnation of Nemesis, sells Hoffmann magic glasses to make Olympia appear as a real woman ("J'ai des yeux" – I have eyes).
Olympia sings one of the opera's most famous arias, "Les oiseaux dans la charmille" (The birds in the arbor, nicknamed "The Doll Song"), during which she runs-down and needs to be wound-up before she can continue. Hoffmann is tricked into believing his affections are returned, to the bemusement of Nicklausse, subtly attempting to warn his friend ("Voyez-la sous son éventail" – See her under her fan). While dancing with Olympia, Hoffmann falls on the ground and his glasses break. At the same time, Coppélius appears, tearing Olympia apart to retaliate against Spalanzani after cheating him of his fees. With the crowd ridiculing him, Hoffmann realizes he loved an automaton.
(sometimes act 3)
This act is based on "Rath Krespel".
After a long search, Hoffmann finds the house where Crespel and his daughter Antonia are hiding. Hoffmann and Antonia loved each other, but were separated after Crespel decided to hide his daughter from Hoffmann. Antonia inherited her mother's talent for singing, but her father forbids her to sing because of her mysterious illness. Antonia wishes her lover would return to her ("Elle a fui, la tourterelle" – "She fled, the dove"). Her father also forbids her to see Hoffmann, encourages Antonia in her musical career, and therefore, endangers her without knowing it. Crespel tells Frantz, his servant, to stay with his daughter, and after Crespel leaves, Frantz sings a comical song about his talents "Jour et nuit je me mets en quatre" – "Day and night, I quarter my mind."
After Crespel leaves his house, Hoffmann takes advantage of the occasion to sneak in, and the lovers are re-united (love duet: "C'est une chanson d'amour" – "It's a love song"). After Crespel returns, he receives a visit from Dr Miracle, the act's Nemesis, forcing Crespel to let him heal her. Eavesdropping, Hoffmann learns Antonia may die if she sings too much. He returns to her boudoir, and makes her promise to give up her artistic-dreams. Antonia reluctantly accepts her lover's will. After she is alone, Dr Miracle enters Antonia's boudoir to persuade her to sing and follow her mother's path to glory, stating Hoffmann is sacrificing her to his brutishness, and loves her only for her beauty. With mystic powers, he raises a vision of Antonia's dead mother and induces Antonia to sing, causing her death. Crespel arrives just in time to witness his daughter's last breath. Hoffmann enters, and Crespel wants to kill him, thinking he is responsible for his daughter's death. Nicklausse saves his friend from the old man's vengeance.
(sometimes act 2)
This act is loosely-based on Die Abenteuer der Silvester-Nacht (A New Year's Eve Adventure).
Venice. The act opens with the barcarolle "Belle nuit, ô nuit d'amour" – "Beautiful night, oh night of love". Hoffmann falls in love with the courtesan Giulietta, and thinks she returns his affections ("Amis, l'amour tendre et rêveur" – "Friends, tender and dreamy love"). Giulietta is not in love with Hoffmann, but seducing him under the orders of Captain Dapertutto, promising to give her a diamond if she steals Hoffmann's reflection from a mirror ("Scintille, diamant" – "Sparkle, diamond"). The jealous Schlemil (cf. Peter Schlemihl for a literary antecedent), a previous victim of Giulietta and Dapertutto (he gave Giulietta his shadow), challenges the poet to a duel, but is killed. Nicklausse wants to take Hoffmann away from Venice, and goes looking for horses. Meanwhile, Hoffmann meets Giulietta, and cannot resist her ("O Dieu! de quelle ivresse" – "O God! of what intoxication"): he gives her his reflection, only to be abandoned by the courtesan, to Dapertutto's great pleasure. Hoffmann tells Dapertutto his friend Nicklausse will come and save him. Dapertutto prepares a poison to get rid of Nicklausse, but Giulietta drinks it by mistake, dropping dead in the poet's arms.
The tavern in Nuremberg: Hoffmann, drunk, swears he will never love again, and explains Olympia, Antonia, and Giulietta are three facets of the same person, Stella. They represent, respectively, the young girl's, the musician's, and the courtesan's side of the prima donna. After Hoffmann says he doesn't want to love any more, Nicklausse reveals she is the Muse and reclaims Hoffmann: "Be reborn a poet! I love you, Hoffmann! Be mine!" – "Renaîtra un poète! Je t'aime, Hoffmann! Sois à moi!" The magic of poetry reaches Hoffmann as he sings "O Dieu! de quelle ivresse – "O God! of what intoxication" once more, ending with "Muse, whom I love, I am yours!" – "Muse que j'aime, je suis à toi!" At this moment, Stella, tired of waiting for Hoffmann to come to her rendezvous, enters the tavern and finds him drunk. The poet tells her to leave ("Farewell, I will not follow you, phantom, spectre of the past" – "Adieu, je ne vais pas vous suivre, fantôme, spectre du passé"), and Lindorf, waiting in the shadows, comes forth. Nicklausse explains to Stella that Hoffmann does not love her anymore, but Councillor Lindorf is waiting for her. Some students enter the room for more drinking, while Stella and Lindorf leave together.
Hoffmann – Tenor (lyric)
Olympia – Soprano (lyric coloratura)
A mechanical doll
Antonia – Soprano (lyric)
A sick woman
Giulietta – Soprano (lyric)
Stella – Soprano
Lindorf – Bass-baritone
A councilor of Nuremburg
Coppélius – Bass-baritone
Dr Miracle – Bass-baritone
Dapertutto - Bass-baritone
Andrès - Tenor (buffo)
Cochenille – Tenor (buffo)
Frantz – Tenor (buffo)
Pitichinaccio – Tenor (buffo)
An admirer of Giulietta
Crespel – Bass
Hermann – Bass
Wolfram – Bass
Wilhelm - Bass
Luther - Bass
Nathanaël - Tenor
Nicklausse - Mezzo-soprano (lyric)
The muse – Mezzo-soprano/Soprano
The Muse of Poetry
Peter Schlémil – Baritone/Bass
In love with Giulietta
Spalanzani – Tenor
Voice of Antonia's mother – Mezzo-soprano
Second voice in the Barcarolle - Mezzo-soprano
Place of birth: Cologne, Germany
Place of death: Paris, France
Jacques Offenbach was a German-born French composer, cellist and impresario of the Romantic period. He is remembered for his nearly 100 operettas of the 1850s to the 1870s, and his uncompleted opera The Tales of Hoffmann. He was a powerful influence on later composers of the operetta genre, particularly Johann Strauss Jr. and Arthur Sullivan. His best-known works were continually revived during the 20th century, and many of his operettas continue to be staged in the 21st. The Tales of Hoffmann remains part of the standard opera repertory.
“You should never stop living before you die, which happens to some people and is an annoying thing.“
Offenbach was accused of being a German spy during the Franco-Prussian War. He played the cello alongside pianists such as Anton Rubinstein and Franz Liszt, and conductor Felix Mendelssohn.
Most prominent operas
The French libretto was written by Jules Barbier, based on three short stories by E. T. A. Hoffmann, who is the protagonist of the story.
Jules Barbier was a French librettist, poet and writer. He wrote the libretto for Les contes d'Hoffmann by Offenbach. He also co-wrote librettos together with Michel Carré. Their most prominent works include Gounod's Roméo et Juliette and Thomas' Hamlet and Mignon.
2d1, 2, 2, 2 - 4, 2, 3, 0
timp, perc, harp, strings
Les contes d'Hoffmann was Offenbach's final work. He died four months before the premiere at the Opéra-Comique in 1881. That performance did not include the third "Venice" act.
Today Les contes d'Hoffmann is one of the top 30 most performed operas worldwide.
Aria - Les oiseaux dans la charmille (Olympia)
Aria – Scintille diamant (Dapertutto)
Duet – Belle nuit, ô nuit d'amour - Barcarolle (Giulietta, Nicklausse)
Aria - Elle a fui, la tourterelle (Antonia)
Aria – C'est l'amour, l'amour vainqueur - Violin aria (Nicklausse)