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January 28, 2013: Offenbach: Les contes d’Hoffmann


Les contes d'Hoffmann (The Tales of Hoffmann) is an opéra by Jacques Offenbach. The French libretto was written by Jules Barbier, based on short stories by E. T. A. Hoffmannn, who is the main protagonist in the opera (as he is in the stories).  Barbier, together with Michel Carré, had written a play, Les contes fantastiques d'Hoffmann, produced at the Odéon Theatre in Paris in 1851, which Offenbach had seen.  The stories upon which the opera is based are "Die Gesellschaft im Keller", "Der Sandmann" ("The Sandman", 1816), "Rath Krespel" ("Councillor Krespel", also known in English as "The Cremona Violin", 1818), and "Das verlorene Spiegelbild" ("The Lost Reflection") from Die Abendteuer der Sylvester-Nacht (The Adventures of New Year's Eve, 1814).  The "Chanson de Kleinzach" aria in the Prologue is based on the short story "Klein Zaches, genannt Zinnober" (1819).  The opera was first performed in a public venue, without the 'Giulietta' act, at the Opéra-Comique, on 10 February 1881.  The setting is in Nuremberg, Paris, Munich and Venice in the early 19th century.  Les contes d’Hoffmann is the last and most ambitious work of Jacques Offenbach. His characteristic wit and sparkle seem to have left him. He eventually succumbed to a heart attack. The linking idea of the ardent lover seeing the object of his desire everywhere and thwarted by his evil genius, is a kind of self-mockery that appealed to Offenbach. Somehow, the three acts, including the prologue and epilogue do not combine to a single whole. The orchestration was completed by Ernest Guiraud.

Listen as Soprano Maria Aleida sings Olympia's aria from Les Contes d'Hoffmann