Three Tales in One in “The Tales of Hoffmann”

by C. I. Roman. 0 Comments

Jacques Offenbach's first and last grand opera contains everything any opera crowd craves: romance, tragedy, fantasy, colorful spectacle and abundant opportunities for glorious singing and orchestral playing. During his lifetime, Offenbach became world famous as the composer of operettas (light comedies, with catchy tunes that often outlived the works they were written for). Despite his fame, Offenbach wanted to be known for more than his operettas, and hoped The Tales of Hoffmann would establish him as a serious opera master. It did, but unfortunately the composer never lived to see it.

Les contes d'Hoffmann is an opera fantasy written by Jules Barbier, based on three short stories by E. T. A. Hoffmann.

The story begins during the intermission of Don Giovanni at a tavern where the sensitive poet Hoffmann is waiting for Stella, a diva singing in the show. The Poetry Muse joins the group disguised as Hoffmann's friend Nicklausse.

In the first story, Hoffmann falls in love with Olympia, who he thinks is the daughter of his teacher Spalanzani. Actually, Olympia is a singing doll created by Coppélius the mad scientist who sells Hoffmann a pair of rose-colored glasses that make him see Olympia as human. Spalanzani and Coppélius quarrel and Olympia is destroyed by Coppélius. A horrified Hoffmann discovers that the girl he loved was never real.

In the second story, Hoffmann courts Antonia, a fragile girl sheltered from the world by her father Crespel. Gifted with a beautiful voice, Antonia has been warned to avoid singing, as it could damage her already frail health, and Hoffmann implores her to run away with him. When Hoffmann leaves, the portrait of Antonia's dead mother comes to life and implores the girl to sing. Antonia sings until she collapses and dies. When Hoffmann enters, Crespel blames the poet for her death.

After Antonia's death, Hoffmann meets Giulietta, a courtesan in Venice. The sorcerer Dapertutto, who controls Giulietta, commands her to get Hoffmann’s reflection just as she had taken her lover Schlemil's shadow. Giulietta tells Hoffmann that she will give him her heart in exchange for his reflection. Hoffmann agrees but then regrets his decision. In order to regain his reflection, Hoffmann fights a duel with Schlemil and kills him. Giulietta sails off with Dapertutto.

Back at the tavern, when Stella arrives she finds Hoffmann drunk, and decides to leave with his rival thus again love being beyond Hoffmann’s reach in this melodic masterpiece. One of my favorite pieces is the Barcarolle which I provided here with my favorite Russian soprano Anna Netrebko and Elina Garanca. I Hope you enjoy it.


Carmen Ileana Román writes a regular column for

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