Les Contes d’Hoffmann, Jacques Offenbach

Title Les Contes d’Hoffmann
English Title The Tales of Hoffmann
Composer Jacques Offenbach
Librettists Jules Barbier (1825 – 1901)
Language French, Dutch translation available
Genre Opera (4 acts, 5 tableaus)
First performance 10 February, 1881, Théâtre de l’Opéra-Comique, Paris
Time of action About 1800
Place of action
  1. Lutter’s inn, Berlin
  2. (Olympia act) The physicist Spalanzani’s house
  3. (Antonia act) Krespel’s house, Munich
  4. (Giulietta act) First tableau|: A Venetian palazzo
    Second tableau: As in act 1
Main parts
  • Olympia, soprano
  • Giulietta, soprano
  • Antonia, soprano
  • Stella, soprano
  • Niklaus, mezzo-soprano
  • A voice, mezzo-soprano
  • Hoffmann, tenor
  • Spalanzani, tenor
  • Cochenille, tenor
  • Pitichinaccio, tenor
  • Lindorf, bass or baritone
  • Coppelius, bass or baritone
  • Dapertutto, bass or baritone
  • Doctor Miracle, bass or baritone
Prominence of chorus Considerable. The (relatively short) Antonia act has no chorus
Orchestra 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, 1 harp, timpani/percussion, strings
Special demands Large orchestra, including harp. Many soloists
Full score and orchestral parts Available

The work puts high demands on soloists. The part of Hoffmann is particularly taxing. The parts of Olympia, Antonia, Giulietta and Stella may be sung by one soprano, as intended by the composer. The same applies to the four satanic parts (Lindorf, Coppelius, Dapertutto and Doctor Miracle): one baritone; and to the four comic tenor parts (Andreas, Franz, Cochenille and Pitichinaccio)

Length About 2½ hours, four acts

The opera is one of Offenbach’s last works, and a very popular item in the French repertoire. It contains a wealth of wellknown music, such as the students’ songs, the Klein-Zack song, the puppet Olympia’s coloraturas, Dapertutto’s diamond aria, and of course, the barcarole


In a Berlin beer-cellar the Muse makes her appearance among the spirits of beer and wine. She feels neglected by her protégé, the poet E.T.A. Hoffmann, who has a rendezvous with the opera-singer Stella. While waiting for the latter, he tells his student-friends about his three great loves: Olympia, Antonia and Giulietta. In his audience is councillor Lindorf, also in love with Stella and Hoffmann’s evil genius. In each act one of Hoffmann’s tales is told. His first love, Olympia, turns out to be a puppet, which is destroyed by the optician Coppelius (i.e. Lindorf). The second, the talented singer Antonia, is driven to her death by the hypnotist Dr. Miracle (again: Lindorf). The third, Giulietta, is a courtesan who is unfaithful and robs Hoffmann of his mirror image, induced by Lindorf’s third incarnation, the devilish Dapertutto. Stella is clearly a combination of Hoffmann’s three idols. In the end she turns up, but by then Hoffmann is hopelessly drunk: Lindorf offers her his arm and takes her away. But all is not lost for Hoffmann. His Muse, who has faithfully followed him through three acts in the guise of Niklaus, a student, consoles him and makes him realize that art is higher than love.

Costumes Men: students, well-dressed gentlemen. Women: well-dressed ladies, courtesans.
Link Wikipedia

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Tags: Offenbach | Fransen