Les Contes D’Hoffmann – Jacques Offenbach – Royal Opera House
On 16 October 2000 I saw
The Tales of Hoffmann (Les Contes
d'Hoffmann) an opera in three acts
with prologue and epilogue by(Jakob)
Jacques Offenbach (1819-1880); his
only opera, based on three stories
by the German romantic writer E. T.
A. Hoffmann (1776-1822). Hoffmann
never finished the opera before he
diedin 1880; it as completed by Ernest
The poet hero represents the German
author and the four principal female
parts are usually sung by the same
soprano. The demonical figure that
in four different roles appears as
one singer (baritone) and also plays
The Prologue contains Hoffmann's story
to the students and song about the
dwarf Kleinzack. Again Hoffmann brings
in his interest in mechanical dolls
as he relates that he is in love with
Stella who he thinks combines three
beings in one person - a doll, a courtesan
and a girl fated to die young. Hoffmann,
hopeless in love, seeks inspiration
in the remembrance of three affairs.
Act I features a mechanical doll,
Olympia, who - when it is wound up
- can dance and sing and also say
"yes" and "no"
and Hoffmann believes she is real.
Act II features the courtesan, Giuletta,
Nicklaus and others singing the celebrated
Barcarolle (an orchestral showpiece)
- "Belle nuit, o nuit d'amour"(A
barcarolle with its gently rocking
rhythm is from the Italian word' barca'
- a boat- and is the boat-song of
the Venetian gondoliers of which Offenbach's
Barcarolle is the most famous. ) Hoffmann
kills Giuletta's lover, only to lose
her to another.
In Act III he is in love with Antonia,
a fragile girl whose poor health prevents
her from singing. Dr Miracle induces
her to sing and tells her of the life
she would be rejecting if she marries
Hoffmann (Tu ne chanteras plus?).
Looking at the portrait of her mother
on the wall Antonia pleads for guidance.
But Miracle says it is her mother
who is already advising her through
his voice. At Miracle's bidding the
portrait comes to life and greets
Antonia (Chere enfant) - a touching
portrayal of Antonia's mother by Catherine
Wyn-Rogers. Miracle grabs a violin
and urges Antonia to sing. She falls
exhausted as the portrait resumes
its inanimate form and Miracle vanishes.
Crespel (Antonia's father) rushes
in and Antonia dies in his arms. Hoffmann,
a poet, was played by Marcelo Alvarez;
Olympia, a mechanical doll, by Desiree
Rancatore; Giuletta, a courtesan,
by lrini Tsirakidis; Antonia by Nuccia
Focile; Crespel (a collector of musical
instruments and Antonia's father)
by Peter Rose; Coppelius and Dr Miracle
by Donnie Ray Albert; Spirit of Antonia's
mother by Catherine Wyn-Rogers; Stella
(an Italian prima donna) by Maria
Koripas. Production was by the well-known
film director John Schlesinger. William
Dudley's set of the Venice brothel
with a naked male entwining himself
over and under a clothed chorus lady
is said by one critic to resemble
gothic railway sheds at St Pancras!
! Emmanuel Villaume conducted the
performance. In the 2-hour British
film version, seen in 1951, Robert
Rounseville played Hoffmann, Ludmilla
Tcherina was Giuletta, Moira Shearer
played Stella and Olympia; and Robert
Helpmann was the demonical figure,
again introducing a Coppelius as one
of the four roles.