Major Operas | Les contes d’Hoffmann by Jacques Offenbach | High Romantic
Premiered: 1881, Paris
Libretto by Jules Barbier after the play by Barbier and Michel Carré
Hoffmann has neglected poetry in his search for love. His muse is transformed into a companion named Nicklausse in order to protect him. Hoffmann’s latest love, Stella, an opera singer, is also admired by Counsellor Lindorf. Luther’s tavern fills up during the interval of Don Giovanni. Hoffmann tells the story of Kleinzack, but his mind keeps wandering to a lost love. He recognizes Lindorf and claims that something evil always happens when he is there. Hoffmann announces that Stella embodies three former loves: an artist, a young girl and a courtesan. He begins three fantastical tales of his loves.
Spalanzani has invented a mechanical doll that he will introduce as his daughter Olympia. He hopes to make his fortune, but still owes money to Coppélius. Hoffmann is unaware that she is a doll and Coppélius gives him spectacles that make her appear human. Olympia is introduced to the guests with great success and Hoffmann declares his love. Coppélius discovers that Spalanzani has cheated him and destroys the doll. The guests mock Hoffmann’s infatuation.
Crespel’s wife, an opera singer, suffered from a fatal chest disease and he has forbidden his daughter Antonia to overtax herself by singing or seeing Hoffmann. Frantz, their deaf servant, admits Hoffmann and Nicklausse. Although Nicklausse tries to stop them, Antonia insists on singing with Hoffmann. Crespel returns with Dr Miracle, whom he believes was responsible for his wife’s death, but who claims that only he can cure Antonia. Miracle contrasts humdrum married life with Antonia’s dreams of the stage and calls on her to sing with an apparition of her mother. She collapses with the strain and dies as Crespel blames Hoffmann.
Hoffmann and Nicklausse attend a party held by the Venetian courtesan Giulietta. Dapertutto bribes Giulietta to seduce Hoffmann and steal his reflection as she has taken Schlemil’s shadow. She tells Hoffmann that Schlemil has the key to her boudoir. He kills Schlemil in a duel and takes the key. Giulietta urges Hoffmann to flee and promises to join him later. She asks for a keepsake and his reflection becomes imprisoned in a mirror. Schlemil’s body has been found. Hoffmann curses Giulietta and tries to stab her but instead kills her servant Pitichinaccio.
Back at the tavern Hoffmann is drunk and contemplating suicide. He insults Stella and she bids him farewell. Now that his passion can once again be directed towards poetry, his muse returns.
Les contes d’Hoffmann, Royal Opera, Covent Garden; Georges Prêtre, conductor
Warner Music Vision 0630-19392-2 (DVD Region 0, NTSC); Soloists: Luciana Serra (Olympia), Ileana Cotrubas (Antonia), Agnes Baltsa (Giulietta), Claire Powell (Muse/Nicklausse), Phyllis Cannan (Voice), Plácido Domingo (Hoffmann), Robert Tear (Spalanzani), Robert Lloyd (Lindorf), Geraint Evans (Coppelius)
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