Les Contes D’Hoffmann – Jacques Offenbach – Royal Opera House
Covent Garden

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 Guiraud.

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 Hoffmann's enemy.

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.


Verinha Ottoni.


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