"It's nearly always the most improbable things that really come to pass."
- E.T.A. Hoffman
As he sits in a tavern, the poet Hoffmann recounts the stories of his three loves: a doll, a singer, and a courtesan. His adventures take him from Munich to Venice, always accompanied by his most faithful love, his muse.
Offenbach’s masterpiece moves in a fantasy world, with showpiece arias for the bravura cast, the gorgeous “Barcarolle,” and a truly moving tribute to what it means to be an artist.
Don’t miss this extraordinary work that is equal parts fantasy, realism, and genuine passion.
|Antonia, Giulietta, Stella
|The Four Servants|
Learn more about our cast!
* Madison Opera debut
Conductor: John DeMain
Director: Kristine McIntyre
Sung in French with project English translations
April 15, 2016 | 8pm
April 17, 2016 | 2:30pm
Opera Novice: Opera Unfinished | March 18, 2016
Opera Up Close: The Tales of Hoffmann preview | April 10, 2016
Opera Talks: Pre-Opera lecture and Post-Opera
The Story of the Opera
PROLOGUE. Inside Luther’s bar, the poet Hoffmann is roused by a chorus of spirits of wine and beer. He leaves for the opera house next door, where his girlfriend Stella is singing in a performance of Don Giovanni. The Muse appears and bemoans Hoffmann’s attachment to Stella. She calls on the spirits to help her, then disappears to assume the guise of Nicklausse, Hoffmann’s friend.
Councilor Lindorf bribes Andrès, Stella’s manservant, to give him a note intended for Hoffmann. Inside is the key to Stella’s dressing room. Lindorf decides to keep the appointment himself. An intermission crowd fills the tavern, followed by Hoffmann and Nicklausse. Hoffmann is troubled; the crowd urges him to drink and sing. He begins a ballad about Kleinzach the dwarf only to digress into recollections of love. Lindorf goads Hoffmann into an exchange of sarcastic insults and the encounter leaves Hoffmann with a sense of foreboding. When the students tease him about his current infatuation with Stella, he offers to tell the story of three past loves....
ACT I. The inventor Spalanzani admires his most recent invention, the mechanical doll Olympia, with which he hopes to recover money he lost in the collapse of the banking house of Élias. Hoffmann arrives, eager to see Olympia whom he has only glimpsed through a window. The mad scientist Coppélius sells Hoffmann a pair of magic glasses through which he alone perceives Olympia as human. Spalanzani and Coppélius haggle over their share of the doll’s profits and Spalanzani pays off Coppélius with a promissory note. Coppélius suggests that Olympia be married off to Hoffmann. Party guests arrive and Olympia is presented and sings an aria. The crowd is captivated and Hoffmann is enchanted, oblivious to the periodic running down of the doll’s mechanism. Alone with her, Hoffmann pours out his heart and believes he is loved in return. Nicklausse suggests that Olympia might not be alive, but the poet refuses to listen. Coppélius returns in a fury, having discovered that Spalanzani’s bank draft is worthless, and threatens revenge. The guests return from dinner to waltz. They are joined by Hoffmann and Olympia, who whirl faster and faster, until Hoffmann falls and breaks his magic glasses. Coppélius tears Olympia apart, and Hoffmann finally realizes she was a robot.
ACT II.Crespel has fled with his daughter, Antonia, to Munich to end her love affair with Hoffmann. Alone, Antonia sings a plaintive love song. Crespel begs her to give up singing: she has a weak heart, and the effort will endanger her life. He instructs his servant, Frantz, to allow no one into the house while he is gone. Hoffmann arrives, and Nicklausse, citing his past experience with love, tries to persuade him to devote himself solely to art. But Antonia appears and she and Hoffmann swear eternal love. Though her father has forbidden her to sing, Antonia convinces Hoffmann to sing a love duet with her but Antonia soon falls ill.
Crespel returns and is alarmed by the arrival of Dr. Miracle, who treated Crespel’s wife the day she died. The doctor conjures Antonia’s spirit, questioning her and commanding her to sing. He offers medicines to save Antonia, but Crespel forces Miracle to leave. When the real Antonia returns, Hoffmann begs her never to sing again and she reluctantly agrees. Miracle reappears, taunting Antonia with prospects of fame as a singer. Miracle brings a statue of Antonia’s mother to life and declares that her mother wants Antonia to equal the glory of her own fame. Antonia sings more and more feverishly until she collapses. Hoffmann rushes in, only to find her dead.
ACT III. In a Venetian palace on the Grand Canal, the courtesan Giulietta joins Nicklausse in a languid barcarole. Hoffmann mockingly praises the pleasures of love. Giulietta’s current lover, Schlemil, jealously acknowledges her apparent affection for Hoffmann. Giulietta invites her guests to the gaming tables. Nicklausse warns Hoffmann against the courtesan but he denies interest in her, declaring that should he fall in love with her, the devil may have his soul. Dappertutto, overhearing them, produces a large diamond with which he will bribe Giulietta to steal Hoffmann’s reflection, just as she already has stolen Schlemil’s shadow. Lured by the diamond, Giulietta agrees. She seduces Hoffmann and he falls in love instantly, as Giulietta carries out Dappertutto command. As Schemil returns with the guests to confront Giulietta, Hoffmann realizes that he has lost his reflection. Hoffmann demands that Schlemil give him the key to Giulietta’s room; when Schlemil refuses, Hoffmann kills him in a duel. Hoffmann rushes to Giulietta’s room, only to find it empty. He watches as Giulietta leaves with Dappertutto….
EPILOGUE. Hoffmann has finished his tales, which each described a different aspect of the same woman, Stella. Now he wants only to get drunk and forget. Arriving in the tavern after her performance, the opera singer finds the poet barely coherent. Stella is about to leave with the triumphant Lindorf when Hoffmann interrupts to sing one last verse of “Kleinzach” and then collapses. Alone in the bar with only the Muse to console him, Hoffmann contemplates life and the nature of love.
by Kristine McIntyre