Les Contes d'Hoffmann Synopsis

The Story of Jacques Offenbach's Famous Opera

UK - Opera- Jacquez Offenbach's 'Les Contes D'Hoffmann' in London
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Les Contes d'Hoffmann (The Tales of Hoffman), composed by Jacques Offenbach, is based on three stories by E. T. A. Hoffmann. The opera premiered on February 10, 1881, at Opéra-Comique in Paris, France. The story is set in 19th century Nuremberg.

Les Contes d'Hoffmann, Prologue

Within an empty tavern next door to a sold out opera theater, Hoffmann's (a poet) Muse reveals her intentions to lure him into giving up all other love in order to devote himself fully to her.

She is poetry incarnate but disguises herself as Hoffmann's friend, Nicklausse. She knows that this evening Hoffmann's fate will be determined by the choice he makes. In the theater next door, a performance of Mozart's Don Giovanni is taking place, with the soprano lead sung by Stella. With Hoffmann in attendance, Stella has written a letter to him asking him to visit her in her dressing room after the performance. She's even included the room key. However, the letter was intercepted by Hoffmann's nemesis, Councillor Lindorf, who successfully bribed Stella's servant and assistant. Lindorf begins to craft a plan to take Hoffmann's place by Stella's side. Moments later, the tavern begins filling with students and theater patrons. Hoffmann and Nicklausse arrive, though Hoffmann is clearly troubled, the students urge him to drink and tell stories. Hoffmann entertains them with a story of a dwarf named Kleinzach.

Lindorf interrupts and begins hurling insults at Hoffmann. Nicklausse interjects, but then the students begin teasing Hoffmann about his crush on Stella. Hoffmann responds by telling three stories of his past great loves.

Les Contes d'Hoffmann, ACT 1

Spalanzani, an inventor has created his greatest invention yet, a mechanical doll named Olympia.

Since the inventor has lost a great sum of money, Olympia is his only chance of regaining his wealth. Hoffmann is the first to arrive at Spalanzani's party, and upon seeing the beautiful mechanical doll, Hoffmann instantly falls in love with her. He is under the impression she is a real person. Nicklausse tries to warn Hoffmann, but his concern is unheeded. Coppelius, a mad scientist (and this act's nemesis), sells Hoffmann a magic pair of spectacles that allows Hoffmann to see the doll as a real human being. Coppelius and Spalanzani argue with one another over the doll's profits, and Coppelius finally agrees to sell his portion of ownership to Spalanzani for $500. Spalanzani writes him a check and Coppelius leaves to cash in the check. During the party, Olympia performs the opera's most famous aria, "Les oiseaux..." which captivates the audience and Hoffmann. Despite the doll's need for rewinding her mechanisms throughout the performance, Hoffmann is still oblivious to the truth. After the guests venture to the dining room, Hoffmann is left alone with Olympia and he begins to tell her his heart and soul. Thinking her feelings for him are mutual, he leans in to kiss her. This causes Olympia to go haywire and she spins out of the room.

Nicklausse warns Hoffmann yet again, but Hoffmann pays no attention to him. Coppelius has returned from the bank, furious that the check bounced. Waiting for everyone to return from the dining room to attend the evening's waltz, Coppelius waits in the background. Hoffmann joins Olympia in the waltz. As the two dance and whirl, Hoffmann falls and breaks his glasses. Seizing the opportunity, Coppelius unleashes his fury on the doll and begins tearing her apart. Hoffmann, finally aware of the truth, is mocked for falling in love with a doll.

Les Contes d'Hoffmann, ACT 2

Hoffmann has fallen in love with a beautiful young singer, Antonia. Her father, Crespel, has taken her away to another city in order to separate her from Hoffmann. Antonia has a rare heart condition, and every time she sings, it makes her heart weak.

When her father leaves, he commands his servant (who is hard of hearing) not to let anyone in the house. After he leaves, the servant entertains Antonia. After some time passes, Hoffmann and Nicklausse arrive and are welcomed into the home. Nicklausse tries to persuade Hoffmann to give up love and devote his time to art, but he is too smitten with Antonia. She is happy to see Hoffmann but tells him her father has forbidden her to sing. After several requests, she finally gives in to him and the two sing a duet, which nearly causes her to pass out. When Crespel returns, Hoffmann and Nicklausse hide. Dr. Miracle shows up to Crespel's dismay. Dr. Miracle was a doctor to Crespel's wife when she died, and he forces Crespel to let him treat his daughter. Dr. Miracle consults Antonia and tells her that if she ever sings again, she will die. Overhearing the diagnosis, Hoffmann begs Antonia to stop singing once the doctor leaves. Reluctantly, she does. When the doctor tries to tell Crespel that Antonia must take his medicine, Crespel kicks him out of the house. Crespel believes it was Miracle's medicine that killed his wife. Hoffmann leaves with Nicklausse after assuring Antonia he will come back the next day. After they leave, Dr. Miracle suddenly appears, taunting Antonia with fame and fortune. He says she can have the same, if not more, success as her mother who was also a singer. She tries to stay steadfast in her attempts to remain quiet and turns to a portrait of her mother asking for strength.

Dr. Miracle conjures a spirit into the painting, and claiming that her mother is speaking through him, he tells her that her mother approves of her singing. As Dr. Miracle plays on his violin, Antonia begins singing. Fervently, the two make music at an ever increasing speed. In a matter of seconds, Antonia lets out a deep cry and collapses to the floor. Hoffmann quickly rushes in, only to find Antonia dead on the floor.

Les Contes d'Hoffmann, ACT 3

In Venice, Hoffmann and Nicklausse are visiting the palace. Nicklausse and a beautiful courtesan, Giulietta, sing an old folk song, before being interrupted by Hoffmann. Nicklausse warns Hoffmann not to fall in love with her, but he does anyway. Giulietta does not love Hoffmann; she is only trying to win his affections in order to steal his reflection. Earlier, she had made a deal with Dappertutto in order to get an exquisite diamond. Prior to meeting Hoffmann, she had stolen the shadow of her previous lover, Schlemil. Schlemil is still in love with Giulietta and becomes jealous seeing her with Hoffmann. At the dinner party, Hoffmann realizes his reflection is missing when he passes by a mirror. Still infatuated with Giulietta, Hoffmann doesn't think twice about it. He confronts Schlemil and asks for the key to her room. Schlemil adamantly refuses and the two challenge each other in a duel. Hoffmann overpowers him and Schlemil is killed. He takes the key from Schlemil's pocket and rushes to Giulietta's room, but finds it abandoned. He looks out of her window and sees her walking out of the palace in the arms of yet another man.

Les Contes d'Hoffmann, Epilogue

After Hoffmann has told his stories, and becoming completely drunk, he confesses that he will never love again. He explains that the women in his stories represent three different sides of Stella. Nicklausse shows her true form and tells Hoffmann that he should love her and devote his life to poetry instead. He agrees wholeheartedly. When Stella comes to the tavern, having grown tired of waiting for him in her dressing room, she approaches Hoffmann. He tells her that he does not love her. The muse tells Stella that Lindorf has been waiting for her the whole time, so Stella leaves the tavern with him instead.

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