Les Contes d'Hoffmann

Les Contes d'Hoffmann

PROLOGUE

Hoffmann, a poet and musician, is undergoing a severe crisis in his artistic career, as a result of his obsession with Stella, an opera prima donna. Councilor Lindorf intercepts a note from Stella to Hoffmann, setting a rendezvous at Luther’s tavern following her performance in Don Giovanni, in the neighboring opera house. Lindorf vows that he will keep the appointment instead, and remains in the tavern with the operagoers who come in for a drink after the first act. Hoffmann enters with Nicklausse, his Muse in disguise, and to cheer himself up, sings a song about the dwarf Kleinzach. Lindorf taunts him and Hoffmann recognizes in him the spirit of evil, which continually pursues him. Hoffmann agrees to tell the people in the tavern the tales of his three loves.

 

ACT I: OLYMPIA

Hoffmann visits the inventor Spalanzani, who shows him his latest creation, the mechanical doll Olympia, who Hoffmann believes is Spalanzani’s daughter. Nicklausse mocks him for his infatuation. Coppelius, who gave Spalanzani Olympia’s eyes, arrives and sells Hoffmann a pair of magic eyeglasses, which transform the doll into the woman of his fantasies. Coppelius insists that, because he created her eyes, he is entitled to a share of Spalanzani’s invention. Spalanzani agrees but hands him a bad check. Spalanzani presents his new invention to an invited group of people. Olympia sings a delightful chanson and, despite some mechanical malfunctions, she triumphs. When the guests go in to dinner, Hoffmann declares his love for the doll. Coppelius, having discovered Spalanzani’s trickery, rushes back in and destroys the doll. Hoffmann’s magic glasses are smashed and he realizes that his beloved was only a mechanical toy.

 

ACT II: ANTONIA

Hoffmann has followed his beloved, the ailing singer Antonia to Munich, where her father Crespel has hidden her. Although Antonia has inherited her dead mother’s beautiful voice, it is dangerous for her health to sing. In spite of the efforts of the servant Franz, Hoffmann gains entry to the home and is reunited with Antonia. He hides when her father approaches, and, as if in a nightmare, watches, as the uncanny Dr. Miracle examines Antonia and conjures up the spirit of her dead mother, who induces Antonia to sing herself to death.

 

ACT III: GIULIETTA

Hoffmann admires and fears the courtesan Giulietta. Giulietta’s lover Schlemil appears and is introduced to Hoffmann. The demonic Dapertutto shows Giulietta a diamond and, enchanted by the stone, he gives her his orders: just as she has conjured up the shadow of Schlemil, now she must capture Hoffmann’s reflection.

Although Nicklausse warns Hoffmann against the evil woman, pointing out the fate of unfortunate Schlemil, Hoffmann confesses to Giulietta his love for her, thus losing his reflection. Hoffmann kills Schlemil, before running off to Giulietta’s room, where he does not find anyone. He sees Giulietta in a gondola with another admirer, Pitichinaccio. Nicklausse succeeds in helping Hoffmann to escape.

 

EPILOGUE

Back at Luther’s tavern, Hoffmann concludes his tales, as voices in the theater next door hail Stella, his present love. Nicklausse recognizes the allegory of the three tales - Stella is all three women in one. Hoffmann proposes they drown their sorrows in another bowl of punch. Stella appears but the drunk Hoffmann, lost in thought, does not respond to her. Seeing him in this condition Stella leaves the tavern on the arm of   the triumphant Lindorf. Nicklausse, reverting to his true identity as the Muse, persuades Hoffmann to devote himself to his art.

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