Les Contes d’Hoffmann (The Tales of Hoffmann)

Scenes from the Paris premiere

Tales of Hoffmann

Offenbach’s Tales of Hoffmann (or in its original French title Les Contes d’Hoffmann) is a wonderful opera which is based on three tales by the 19th-Century German writer E.T.A. Hoffmann.

Is This a Good Opera to Attend?

This should be a very good performance, with a strong  Italian tenor, Vittorio Grigolo taking on the demanding role of Hoffmann and three strong female singers, each portraying one of the tenor’s failed loves.

The Storyline

Following an introductory scene in which the drunken poet Hoffmann outlines each of the three love affairs which end in disaster for him, the following three acts of the opera portray each of these love affairs in detail.

Unfortunately, Hoffmann has terrible taste (and luck) with women.

For example, his first love, Olympia, turns out to be a mechanical doll. This, obviously, does not form the basis for a good relationship.

About the Music

The opera’s most famous piece is the duet for two female voices known as the Barcarolle.

This takes place in the marvelous scene set in Venice in Act II of the opera, when Hoffmann is pursuing the courtesan Gulietta (another affair which does not end happily).

The Barcarolle is far from being the only great music in this opera and I feel that anyone seeing it for the first time will not be disappointed.

The music is wonderful and the production is very fine. This was Offenbach’s last work and he died before it’s premiere.

Like Sir Arthur Sullivan in England, Offenbach was known for his operettas but wanted to be taken seriously as an opera composer.

In this respect, he had more success than Sir Arthur, whose attempts at opera ended in failure.