The Tales of Hoffmann (Les Contes d'Hoffmann) is a fantastic three-act opera composed by Jacques Offenbach (June 20, 1819 – October 5, 1880.) Libretto is written by Jules Barbier and Michel Carré based on E.T.A. Hoffmann stories. It was premiered at the Opéra Comique, Paris, on February 10th, 1881. The setting is in Nuremberg, Paris, Munich and Venice in the early 19th century.
Notable Arias: "Scintille diamante" (Dappertutto), "Elle a fui" (Antonia,) "Jour et nuit" (Franz,) and "Il était une fois à la cour d'Eisenbach" (Hoffmann.)
The Tales of Hoffmann is the last and most ambitious work of Jacques Offenbach. His characteristic wit and sparkle seem to have left him. He eventually succumbed to a heart attack. The linking idea of the ardent lover seeing the object of his desire everywhere and thwarted by his evil genius, is a kind of self-mockery that appealed to Offenbach. Somehow, the three acts, including the prologue and epilogue do not combine to a single whole. The orchestration was completed by Ernest Guiraud.
Characters of The Tales of Hoffmann
- Hoffmann, a poet (Tenor)
- Nicklausse, Hoffmann's companion (Tenor or Mezzo-soprano)
- Lindorf, A councilor (Bass-baritone)
- Coppelius, A scientist (Bass-baritone)
- Dappertutto, A sorcerer (Bass-baritone)
- Dr Miracle, An evil genius (all Bass-baritone)
- Olympia, A mechanical doll (Soprano)
- Giulietta, A courtesan (Soprano)
- Antonia, A young girl (Soprano)
- Stella, Hoffmann's beloved (Soprano)
- Luther, An innkeeper (Bass)
- Spalanzani, An inventor (Tenor)
- Schlemil, Giuletta's lover (Bass)
- Pittichinaccio, Her admirer (Tenor)
- Crespel, Antonia's father (Baritone)
- Franz, Crespel's servant (Tenor)
- Voice of Antonia's mother (Mezzo-soprano)
Plot Summary / Synopsis of The Tales of Hoffmann
Prologue. Luther's Tavern Adjoining the Opera House
Stella, an opera singer, has sent a letter and key to the poet Hoffmann through a courier. Councillor Lindorf bribes the courier and gets both, intending to block Hoffmann in Stella's affections. Meantime, students enter Luther's tavern. Hoffmann sings a song and is carried away in mid-song by a vision of his love. When Lindorf derides him, the two men trade insults. Hoffmann praises Stella and begins the tales of his past loves.
Act I. Spalanzani's House, an Elegant Scientist Parlor
Spalanzani hopes to use his creation, Olympia, a mechanical doll, to win back the 500 ducats he lost when his bank of Elias went bankrupt. He greets Nicklausse and Hoffmann. The poet's real interest is in Olympia, whom he believes to be Spalanzani's daughter: He has apprenticed himself to be near her. Coppélius sells Hoffmann glasses. He has come to claim payment from Spalanzani for providing Olympia's eyes. Spalanzani gets rid of him with a check for 500 ducats drawn on his bank. Spalanzani's guests arrive for the presentation of Olympia, who charms everyone with a song. Hoffmann catches a moment alone with his love. Nicklausse tries to warn him about Olympia but to no avail. Realizing he has been cheated, Coppélius sabotages Olympia, who dances wildly and is smashed to pieces, revealing that she is a puppet.
(Note: The order of Acts II and III is sometimes reversed.)
Act II. Exterior of a Gallery in a Palace Overlooking the Grand Canal in Venice
Dappertutto hopes Hoffmann will fall for the Venetian courtesan Giulietta just as Schlemiel did before him. He has charmed Giulietta with a diamond and orders her to steal Hoffmann's reflection. She does. Hoffmann fights and fills Schlemiel for the key to Giulietta's bedroom only to find she has fled with Pittichinaccio. Nicklausse helps Hoffmann out as the police arrive.
Act III. Crespel's House, Munich
Antonia is singing. Her father, Crespel, begs her not to sing as it endangers her weak health. Crespel has come to Munich to get his daughter away from Hoffmann. He tells the servant Franz not to admit anyone while he is out, but Franz is deaf and misunderstands.
Hoffmann and Antonia sing together until Antonia faints. Crespel tries unsuccessfully to keep the quack doctor who allows Antonia to sing as who prescribes pills. All three men leave, but Doctor Miracle returns. Aided by the voice of Antonia's dead mother, Miracle persuades Antonia to sing. When Crespel and Hoffman return, Antonia is dead.
Epilogue. Luther's Tavern (Same as Prologue)
Hoffmann's audience now realize that his three loves are all aspects of Stella. Hoffmann drinks to drown his sorrows. Stella arrives and finding him dead drunk, leaves with Lindorf. The muse of poetry comes to comfort Hoffmann.
"Barcarolle - Anna Netrebko and Elina Garanca - Offenbach Barcarola". YouTube, uploaded by Lila K. Accessed February 10, 2015
"Offenbach - Barcarolle, from "The Tales of Hoffmann". Youtube, uploaded by Classical Music Only. Retrieved August 13, 2016
Martin, Nicholas Ivor. The Da Capo Opera Manual. New York: Da Capo Press, 1997
Morley, Sir Alexander F.. Harrap Opera Guide. London: Harrap, 1970
Latest update: 13 August 2016.