The Tales of Hoffmann
Jacques Offenbach

The story | About the opera - Longwood exclusive edition!

The story:

Prologue: Luther's tavern in Berlin

The Muse of Music and Poetry sets the stage for the opera by explaining that she will protect Hoffmann, by taking on the disguise of Nicklaus. Lindorf intercepts a love note addressed to the poet Hoffmann by Stella, a famous opera singer, and declares that the poet will not keep the proposed rendezvous.

Hoffmann enters the tavern during an intermission at the nearby opera house, and everyone there asks him for a song. He begins a song about a hunchbacked jester, but suddenly becomes distracted and speaks of the beauty of a woman. He is chided for being in love, but Hoffmann denies that he is in love, having had three unfortunate experiences. He sets about describing them.

Act I: Spalanzani's laboratory in Paris

Spalanzani has collaborated with the magician Coppelius (an incarnation of Lindorf) to create Olympia, a mechanical doll that looks almost human. Hoffmann has fallen in love with her from afar. He confides his love to his friend Nicklaus, who responds with a song of a mechanical doll that fell in love with a mechanical bird. Hoffmann misses the implied warning.

Spalanzani entertains his guests by presenting Olympia to sing. Hoffmann, more in love with her than ever, invites Olympia to dance. Coppelius, furious with Spalanzani because he paid for Olympia with a worthless check, smashes the doll to pieces. Only now does Hoffmann discover that he has been in love with a mechanical doll.


Act II: A room in Crespel's house, London

Hoffmann is now in love with Antonia, a musician and the daughter of Crespel. Antonia sings about her departed lover, Hoffmann, and nearly faints. Crespel reminds her that she is ill and must never again compromise her health by singing.

When Hoffmann arrives, he and Antonia express their love for each other.

Dr. Miracle (another incarnation of Lindorf) evokes the ghost of Antonia's mother, who inspires the girl to sing. Unable to resist her dead mother's wish, Antonia sings and collapses, dying in her father's arms.

Brief Intermission

Act III: The gallery of Giulietta's palace in Venice

Nicklaus and Giulietta, a courtesan, are heard singing the famous barcarolle extolling the beauty of the night and the power of love. Hoffmann finds the tune melancholy and offers a happier one. He falls in love with Giulietta, unaware she is under the power of a magician, Dapertutto (yet another embodiment of Lindorf).

Hoffmann allows Giulietta to capture his reflection (his soul) in a mirror, which she gives to Dappertutto. Schlemil, also in love with her, begins to quarrel with Hoffmann and in the ensuing duel Schlemil is killed. Hoffmann discovers that he cannot hope to win Giulietta's love as she has now thrown herself into the arms of another admirer, Pittichinaccio.

Epilogue: Luther's tavern in Berlin

As Hoffmann ends his stories, Nicklaus suggests that the three women are in reality one, the opera singer Stella, and proposes a toast to her. Hoffmann responds angrily.

Stella arrives and Hoffmann, in a drunken rage, berates her and then collapses into a drunken stupor. As everyone departs, Lindorf leaves with Stella.

Nicklaus changes back to the Muse and consoles him. Although Hoffmann has lost his earthly loves, he is now forever linked with his one true love, his Muse! As the opera closes with the final ensemble, Hoffmann realizes that only through the loss of great love can one find renewed strength of purpose.

About the opera: Longwood Opera exclusive edition!:

No printed edition of The Tales of Hoffmann reflects Offenbach's desires or intentions for this sprawling, tuneful, dramatic and comic masterpiece. The composer died before his final work was ever performed.

Longwood Opera has investigated all published editions, as well as many related materials, and has created a unique version of this opera. While some of the music will be very familiar, there are passages that may have never been heard elsewhere in English. In 1984, when Longwood Opera first presented this edition, critics acclaimed this as the "definitive production that will be the benchmark for all future Hoffmanns."

[J. Scott Brumit]

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Last updated on May 28, 2004 by Marion Leeds Carroll  (