The Tales of Hoffmann
Performed in the original French with Czech, English and German surtitles
Love is a flame which burns in one’s eyes, love is a sea of tears one must cry…
This story of a poet who is seeking his feminine ideal carries the subheading opéra fantastique, and the only real parts are the prologue and epilogue where the poet Hoffmann, who is in love with the singer Stella, entertains the guests at a public house. Nobody knows whether the stories of the three women he loved are true, or if they are just examples of the poet escaping into a world of bizarre fantasy. Before producing this work, librettist Jules Barbier had been inspired by the character and tales of one of the first exponents of romanticism, the poet and composer E.T.A. Hoffmann, to write a play with the same name in collaboration with Michel Carré. French composer J. Offenbach is connected mainly with the operetta genre, though he also created two operas, The Rhine Nixies and The Tales of Hoffmann, neither of which he managed to complete, though they are still popular in the opera repertoire. In the Tales of Hoffmann, Offenbach did not completely reject all influences from the world of operetta, but the extensive lyrical numbers and sophisticated dramatic passages rank this work alongside that of authors such as Gounod and Bizet. The new production will be the first collaboration of the directorial duo SKUTR with the Brno Opera ensemble.
Synopsis of the Opera
Behind the scenes a theatre is a busy place, especially during a performance. While Mozart’s Don Giovanni is being enacted up front, backstage the theatre is teeming with orchestra members, choir singers, dancers and stage technicians. The place where everybody meets is the theatre club, and Lindorf, a rich patron who longs for the love of a singer, Stella, also turns up there. However, Stella is in love with the poet Hoffmann and sends him a key to her dressing room via Andrès, together with a letter. Without hesitation, Lindorf bribes Andrès into giving him the key and the envelope. The people at the club refresh themselves with a fair amount of beer and wine and Hoffmann doesn’t hold back either. Encouraged by the others, he sings a song about little Zach and makes fun of Lindorf. However, he suddenly realizes that this man is always nearby at those moments which are of key importance to his life and love. Hoffmann’s friends interrupt his train of thought, leading him to start telling the story of his three loves.
At the house of the inventor Spalanzani a great social event is being prepared. Spalanzani has created an artificial being, Olympia, which is indistinguishable from a living girl. Hoffmann, not knowing anything about this, falls in love with Olympia even though his friend Nicklausse tries to warn him against it. Olympia masterfully sings coloraturas in front of the gathered throng. Spalanzani is entertained by Hoffmann’s interest in his creation and leaves them alone. Hoffmann professes his love to Olympia, and doesn’t let the fact that the only answer she gives is “Yes, yes” bother him. A dance follows, during which Olympia nearly injures Hoffmann. While the poet is recovering, a scared servant named Cochenille arrives. Coppélius, who took part in the invention of Olympia, has destroyed it in an act of revenge. Hoffmann realizes with horror that he’d fallen in love with a machine.
The next object of the poet’s affection is Antonia. She has inherited singing talent from her deceased mother but is ill and has to be protected from exertion and excitement. Due to this, her father Crespel hides her from Hoffmann and prevents her from singing. Hoffmann does not want to give up on his love and secretly gets into Crespel’s house. He witnesses Antonia being treated by doctor Miracle, who is already responsible for the death of the girl’s mother. Now he tempts Antonia with a vision of fame and her mother’s voice, telling her not to give up what she loves the most – singing. Antonia sings and dies, exhausted, in the arms of her unhappy father. He accuses Hoffmann of her death.
Hoffmann and Nicklausse are in Venice. The poet claims that he despises love and feels safe even from the charms of the beautiful courtesan Giulietta. However, she is just an instrument of the evil Dapertutto, who asks her to get Hoffmann’s reflection for him using a magic mirror. Obeying this command, Giulietta pretends to be in love with Hoffmann. He succumbs to her seduction and even kills his rival, Giulietta’s jealous lover, Schlémil. However, he then has to flee Venice and Giulietta convinces him to leave his reflection with her as a memento. Dapertutto seizes the reflection and Hoffmann faints.
Broken by love, Hoffmann finishes his narration; applause accompanying the arrival of Stella can be heard backstage. However, her erstwhile admirer is now empty of feeling. Disappointed, Stella accepts Lindorf’s courtship and goes off with him, leaving Hoffmann to abandon himself to alcohol‑ soaked delirium..