Work of the Week – Jacques Offenbach: Les Contes d'Hoffmann

Since its world première in 1881, the opéra fantastique Les Contes d'Hoffmann ("The Tales of Hoffmann") by Jacques Offenbach has been regularly performed around the world. 17 September marks the opening of a new production by Elmar Goerden at the Theatre Basel in Switzerland with conductor Enrico Delamboy and soloists Rolf Romei (Hoffman), Solenn' Lavanant-Linke (Muse), Agata Wilewska (Olympia), Sunyoung Seo (Giulietta), and Maya Boog (Antonia).

In 1851, Offenbach attended a performance of Jules Barbier and Michel Carré's original play Les Contes d’Hoffmann on which the opera is based.

He was perhaps reminded of the rich legacy of Germanic storytelling. These beautiful and romantic, spellbinding, and gruesome tales are typified by the literary works of E. T. A. Hoffmann, and have been skilfully dramatised for stage and opera. – Kaye and Keck

Over 5 acts, the poet Hoffmann is entreated to tell a story by fellow patrons of a pub. He begins the tales of three different women with whom he fell in love, each of whom turned out to be a disastrous disappointment: an automaton called Olympia, the sickly Antonia who sang herself to death, and Giulietta who betrayed him and stole his reflection.

Offenbach didn't begin work on the opera until 1873, and when he died on 5 October 1880, much of the fifth act was unfinished. He did, however, leave behind a nearly complete piano score. Shortly after Offenbach's death, the composer Ernest Guiraud was commissioned to complete the composition and with the help of Offenbach's sketches, he finished the Epilogue.

In the last 40 years several major discoveries have finally lead to the completion of a definitive version. 1970, 1,250 pages of manuscript that were believed to have been lost were uncovered. Nearly all the autograph manuscripts that were cut during the rehearsals for the world première at the Opéra Comique came to light again in 1984. In 1993, French musicologist Jean-Christophe Keck came upon the manuscript for the authentic "Finale avec chœurs" of the fourth act, and the copyist’s score with Guiraud’s annotations from the world première was recovered in 2004 in the archives of the Opéra de Paris. Keck and musicologist Michael Kaye created a new critical edition of Les Contes d'Hoffmann, which includes all the currently known and accessible autograph sources. This new edition has become the most frequently performed version and makes possible realisations of the opera in the form of an opera comique or  drame lyrique as well as a grand opera.

Les Contes d'Hoffmann will run at the theatre in Basel until the end of the year. Please follow the link bellow for more information on the genesis of the opera.

Photo: Theater Basel / T+T Fotografie, Tanja Dorendorf

(09/15/2014)

 

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09/15/2014

Work of the Week – Jacques Offenbach: Les Contes d'Hoffmann

Since its world première in 1881, the opéra fantastique Les Contes d'Hoffmann ("The Tales of Hoffmann") by Jacques Offenbach has been regularly performed around the world. 17 September marks the opening ...

more

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