Les contes d'Hoffmann is inspired by three short stories by the same Hoffmann, and characterized by a fantasy cut typical of the Romantic era. There are many versions of the Hoffmann so anyone can express his favourite edition or the reference one of this masterpiece; from Guiraud to Hammond or Felsensteirn, from Antonio de Almeida to Richard Bonynge up until Kaye-Keck (where Giulietta is turn from the usual mezzosoprano to a soprano di coloratura), this diverse opera, fascinating and mysterious, it's like an iridescent kaleidoscope offering many surprises.
Synopsis Les contes d'Hoffmann
Hoffmann must choose between his love for the Muse and his love for her rival, Stella, an opera singer. The Muse assumes the guise of Nicklausse, Hoffmann's friend. Councilor Lindorf bribes a servant of Stella, Andrès, to intercept a note she has written to Hoffmann containing the key to her dressing room. A crowd of students enters the tavern and urge Hoffmann to drink and sing. When the students tease him about his infatuation with Stella, he offers to tell the story of three past loves.
In Paris, the inventor Spalanzani admires his recent invention, the mechanical doll Olympia, while awaiting the arrival of his party guests. Hoffmann discovers Olympia and falls in love with her. The mad scientist Coppélius arrives and sells Hoffmann a pair of magic glasses through which he sees Olympia as human. Coppélius agrees to sell his rights over the doll to Spalanzani for 500 ducats and the inventor gives him a check. Olympia entertains the guests with an aria, accompanied by Spalanzani at the harp. When everyone goes to dinner, Hoffmann confesses his love to Olympia whom he thinks a real woman. Nicklausse suggests that Olympia might not be alive, but the poet refuses to listen. Coppélius discovers that Spalanzani's check is worthless and as revenge he grabs Olympia and tears her apart.
Crespel has fled with his daughter, Antonia, to Munich to end her love affair with Hoffmann. She sings a love song and Crespel asks her to stop because she has a weak heart. Hoffmann arrives swearing eternal love to Antonia. They sing a love song until Antonia nearly faints. Crespel returns and is alarmed by the arrival of the charlatan Dr. Miracle: it was Miracle who treated Crespel's wife the day she died. The doctor offers medicines to save the girl, but Crespel throws him out. Miracle reappears, tempting Antonia with prospects of fame as a singer and declares that Antonia's mother, speaking through him, wants her to equal the glory of her own fame. Antonia sings more until she collapses. Hoffmann rushes in finding her dead.
In a palace in Venice, the courtesan Giulietta joins Nicklausse in a barcarole. Giulietta's lover, Schlemil, jealously understands her affection for Hoffmann. Giulietta invites her guests to the gaming tables, but Nicklausse warns Hoffmann against the courtesan. Dappertutto, overhearing them, produces a large diamond with which he will bribe Giulietta to steal Hoffmann's reflection, just as she already has stolen Schlemil's shadow. Giulietta agrees. She seduces Hoffmann, he falls in love instantly and she steals his reflection. Hoffmann realizes that he has lost his reflection but he is trapped by his infatuation. Hoffmann demands that Schlemil give him the key to Giulietta's room. When Schlemil refuses, Hoffmann kills him in a duel. Hoffmann rushes to Giulietta's room finding it empty. He sees her leaving the palace with another admirer, the dwarf Pitichinaccio.
Hoffmann has finished his tales and wants only to get drunk and forget. Nicklausse reveals that each story described a different aspect of Stella. Arriving in the tavern, the opera singer finds the poet confused and she prepares to leave with Lindorf. Hoffmann interrupts their departure to sing one last verse of "Kleinzach," then collapses.