Opera Scotland

Tales of Hoffmann Les Contes d'Hoffmann

Music
Jacques Offenbach (born Cologne, 20 June 1819; died Paris, 5 October 1880)

Text
Jules Barbier & Michel Carré.

Source
Several tales by E T A Hoffmann (German 1776-1822).

Premieres
First performance: Paris (Opéra-Comique), 10 February 1881.
First UK performance: London (Adelphi Theatre), 17 April 1907.
First performance in Scotland: Glasgow (King's Theatre), 31 October 1910.
Scottish Opera première: Dundee (Gardyne Theatre), 20 March 1986.

Background
Offenbach spent most of his career as a successful composer of topical or satirical operetta. He always longed to produce a successful serious opera and Hoffmann is the nearest he came. He died before completing it, and arguments have raged ever since as to how it should be performed. It used to be given with clunky recitatives added by Guiraud instead of the original dialogue, and the order of scenes was changed from his original idea. Most stagings now attempt to return as closely as possible to what it is thought Offenbach intended, though few experts seem to agree on what that was.

Hoffmann seems hardly to leave the stage. If a suitably versatile soprano can be found, his four loves can be played by one singer to increase the sense of unity. Also the four villains can be sung by one bass-baritone. There are four roles for a character tenor as various servants.

Main Characters
Hoffmann, a poet (tenor)
Nicklausse, his friend (mezzo-soprano)
Stella, an opera star (soprano)
Councillor Lindorf (bass)
Coppélius, a scientist and rival of Spalanzani (baritone)
Olympia, a mechanical doll invented by Spalanzani (soprano)
Antonia, daughter of Councillor Crespel (soprano)
Miracle, a doctor (baritone)
Giulietta, a Venetian courtesan (soprano)
Dapertutto, a magician (baritone)

Plot Summary
The opera is framed by a prologue and epilogue located in an inn in Nuremberg. Hoffmann is awaiting the arrival of his old flame Stella from the opera house. He drinks with his friends and tells them three far-fetched tales supposedly from his romantic experiences. At the end, when Stella at last arrives, he is dead drunk and she abandons him in favour of Lindorf.

The first tale, where Hoffmann falls for a lifelike doll who sings and dances, can be quite farcical. The second touches tragedy. Antonia is delicate, but she is persuaded to sing by Miracle and the spirit of her dead mother, while Hoffmann and her father desperately try to stop her, since they know the effort will kill her. The third tale is set in a decadent, almost lurid, vision of Venice, lightened by the famous Barcarolle

The Cast

Andrès
 Stella's servant
Antonia
 Crespel's daughter
Antonia's mother
 a spirit voice
Cochenille
 Spalanzani's servant
Coppélius
 a scientist, Spalanzani's rival
Crespel
 a councillor of Munich
Dapertutto
 a sorcerer
Dr Miracle
 a doctor
First Voice
 on the lagoon
Franz
 Crespel's servant
Giulietta
 a courtesan
Hermann
 a student
Hoffman's Muse
 
Hoffmann
 a poet
Lindorf
 a councillor of Nuremberg
Luther
 an innkeeoer
Nathaniel
 a student
Nicklausse
 Hoffmann's friend
Olympia
 a doll
Pitichinaccio
 Giulietta's admirer
Schlemil
 Giulietta's lover
Second Voice
 on the lagoon
Spalanzani
 an Italian inventor
Stella
 an opera singer
Wilhelm
 a student

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