Les Contes d’Hoffmann

Teatro Regio, Friday 30 January 2009 - Sunday 8 February 2009

Compagnia di San Paolo


Stage photo

Called the “Mozart of the Champs-Élysées”, the king of operetta and cancan, he had attended, in 1851 at the Odéon in Paris, the drame-fantastique Les Contes d’Hoffmann by Jules Barbier and Michel Carré (a story of fantasy freely inspired by stories by E.T.A. Hoffmann) and thought it could make an excellent subject for an opera, but more than twenty years were to pass before Jacques Offenbach began writing his last opera. It was 18 May 1879 in Paris, in an apartment at the corner of Boulevard des Capucines and Place de l’Opéra: musicians, intellectuals, journalists, Carvalho (director of the Opéra-Comique) and Junger (director of the Ringtheater in Vienna) were all present for a preview of some fragments of the new opera by Jacques Offenbach, Les Contes d’Hoffmann. It was the only public performance that the composer would hear: on 4 October 1880, just after making the final changes to the last act, Offenbach died. The opera had its première on 10 February 1881 at the Opéra-Comique and was an extraordinary success (it immediately had more than one hundred repeat performances). The “unfinished” work passed through various hands: the spoken dialogue was transformed into recitatives, for a long time there were performances with the order of the acts inverted, or an act was cut or sections were moved from one act to another (Mahler conducted a version in three acts with the character of the Muse eliminated). For example, the famous and popular Barcarolle (the duet between Giulietta and Nicklausse, the scene also used by Benigni in his Oscar-winning film La Vita è Bella), which Offenbach had already composed for the opera Die Rheinnixen, was transposed with great indifference from Giulietta’s act to Antonia’s. The philosopher Adorno wrote in this way about the Barcarolle: «it radiates from café puddles, shacks and automatic devices, and yet are they really needed to radiate so genuinely false, in such a way that no melody can imitate it?»

Main data

Composer: Jacques Offenbach
Librettist: Jules Barbier based on Jules Barbier and Michel Carré's drama
Year of the first performance: 1881 Opéra-Comique de Paris

Previous staging:

1956, 1973