Choeur de la Radio Suisse Romande / Choeur Pro Arte de Lausanne / Choeur du BrassusOrchestre de la Suisse RomandeConductor: Richard BonyngeRecording: Decca 1972
Premiere: Salzburg, May 24, 1985New staging: Salzburg, April 13, 2019
The puppets and the equipment were made in the workshops of the Salzburg Marionette Theatre.
Luther’s wine-cellar below the opera house, where a performance of “Don Giovanni” is in progress. From the casks, spirits whisper that as lovers of mankind, they seek to banish sorrow and melancholy. Emerging from one of the casks, the Muse – intent on winning back the poet Hoffmann, who has seemed unfaithful to her on account of his hopeless love for the singer Stella – assumes the form of the poet’s alter ego, Nicklaus. Hoffmann’s rival for Stella’s favour is the city councillor Lindorf, who intercepts a note sent by Stella to Hoffmann along with the key to her room. Hoffmann drowns his heartache in carousing and song.
While regaling the company with the ballad of the dwarf Klein Zack, he finds his thoughts reverting to Stella and embarks on his tales, in which she is transformed into three different characters. The first of these is Olympia.
Hoffmann conjures up the Paris showrooms of the inventor Spalanzani, whose masterpiece is the mechanical doll Olympia. Her eyes were made by the sinister Dr. Coppelius, who forces on Hoffmann a pair of magic spectacles through which everything he sees is wonderfully enhanced. Thus Hoffmann is unable to recognise that the “guests” announced by the servant Cochenille are just as inanimate as Spalanzani’s supposed “daughter”, whose flawless beauty immediately inspires his love. Her mechanism enables her to sing and dance, but disaster threatens when the clockwork runs riot. In the confusion, Hoffmann is knocked down and loses his magic spectacles. He is forced to watch as Coppelius – furious at being duped by the worthless cheque Spalanzani gave him for Olympia’s eyes – destroys the doll. Hoffmann is left to contemplate the ruins of his love.
The second tale evokes his love for the Venetian courtesan Giulietta. She is in the power of the evil magician Dapertutto, for whom she has already stolen the reflection of Hoffmann’s former rival Schlemil, and now has the task of stealing that of Hoffmann. Her reward will be a diamond of cold fire. In a fight, Schlemil is killed by Hoffmann using Dapertutto’s magic sword. Hoffmann seeks oblivion in the courtesan’s arms; he loses his reflection, and the fair lady vanishes with her real lover, Pitichinaccio. Hoffmann is once again left alone.
The third tale recounts his love for Crespel’s daughter Antonia, a world-famous singer. A consumptive, she has promised her father that she will give up singing to avoid dying prematurely, as her mother did. When Hoffmann visits her, however, she joins him in singing a love duet.
Crespel has ordered the deaf servant Franz to admit no-one. The evil Doctor Miracle, however, gains entry and makes Antonia sing. He proffers magic potions to cure both Antonia and her sorely-tried father, who eventually manages to throw him out. Antonia seeks comfort from a portrait of her mother. Miracle returns to cast a magic spell on the portrait, which comes to life and tells Antonia to sing. Crespel finds his daughter dying, and holds Hoffmann responsible.
Yet again, Hoffmann has to endure the loss of his love.
In the wine-cellar Hoffmann, exhausted and drunk, brings his tales to a close. The uncomprehending students drink a liberal toast to the poetic synthesis of artist – courtesan – beloved – and death.
Applaus marks the end of the “Don Giovanni” performance, and Stella comes to look for Hoffmann. The voice of Nicklaus tells Stella that Hoffmann’s love for her is dead, but that Lindorf is waiting for her…
The Muse remains with Hoffmann; henceforth he is to devote his life entirely to her.
by Wolf-Dieter Ludwig
Why is Salzburg’s Marionette Theater – renowned all over the world as a “Mozart Theater” – interested in waking “The Tales of Hoffmann”, the fantastic and crowning achievement of Jacques Offenbach’s art, to magical life as a puppet presentation?
The answer has its roots embedded in history: Ernst Theodor Wilhelm Hoffmann – jurist, poet and painter, an adherent of romanticism, a refined critic and musical aesthete and a composer writing in Mozart's spirit and style was a great admirer of the Salzburg genius whom he revered such an extent that he resolved to change one of his first names, Wilhelm, into Amadeus. This accounts for the order of Hoffmann’s initials familiar to us today: E. T. A. According to Jacques Offenbach's daughter, who attended to the composer in the final year of his life – when he set out to complete the “Contes d'Hoffmann” in the tranquillity of the Henri IV Pavilion in St. Germain – Offenbach often spent his time alternating between the score and Mozart’s biography which he knew by heart and which deeply roused his emotions.
Richard Wagner too, remarked that Offenbach displayed “a light touch, similar to the godlike Mozart”. Rossini referred to him as the “Mozart of the Champs-Elysées”.
Thus the decision to stage this opera reflects allegiance in preserving the image of MOZART.
It is known that Offenbach was prevented from completing his masterpiece and that a number of its most beautiful melodies were originally written for other productions as for example the famous Barcarolle from the overture to the “Rhine Nixies”, the première of which had been given at the Alte Hofoper in Vienna. It is also known that the demoniac “diamond aria” in the unfinished “Venice” act originated from somebody else: although the work has come down to us as a torso, we deplore the numerous arrangements made of the opera which often run counter to the composer's original intentions. On the other hand, the convincing force of the opera itself has testified to its ability to outline all attempted “improvements”. In this respect the work may be said to bear some close relationship to one of Mozart's own masterpieces: “Cosi fan tutte” …
In this production we have given due consideration to the latest results of critical research. To a large extent, we have allowed ourselves to be guided by the corresponding disc recording featuring world-famous musico-theatrical performers, in the version containing spoken dialogue intended by Hoffmann and created by his friend Guiraud for the Opéra Comique.
We are able to realize a whole number of Hoffmann’s visionary shapes along with figments of Offenbach's lively imagination that are inevitably unattainable on “full-size” opera stages. The irreality associated with the Tales of Hoffmann is thus a challenge to the Salzburg Marionette Theater in mastering advanced performing techniques.
The only part calling for a certain amount of reality is the setting in Luther’s Wine Cellar, where as the three figures Olympia, Giulietta and Antonia merely exist in Hoffmann’s imagination. This explains why there are fewer stage props and instead more lighting ambience alternating with brief recurrent glimpses of the wine cellar in which Hoffmann relates his romances.
Even in the introduction, Offenbach’s fine sense of irony transports us into an unrealistic, fantastic world inspired by alcoholic spirits, a world in which Hoffmann too, was fond of escaping in reality. Even the Muse does not appear from out a Greek temple belonging to her father Zeus, but emerges from a wine cask – transforming herself, before our very eyes, into Hoffmann’s “alter ego”, so as to project the poet with guiding love from the hazards afflicting the soul while preserving the art of poetry – following the example of the adopted patron's name, Niklaus.
The Tales of Hoffmann are focused on “crazy” love towards a singer Stella — star in the operatic firmament and a celebrated Mozart interpreter. All that the poet fears is a rival: Lindorf, to whom his imagination, borne along by the influence of alcohol, imparts demoniac traits. First of all he is made to assume the role of “Coppelius" who, as his name implies, would appear to be slow the expression of life on the doll's “vacant orbits”, providing them with artificial eyes. Stella’s servant Andres likewise accompanies us through each of the tales. He is transformed by Hoffmann into some less complimentary figures, the first of which is a “red shield louse” bearing the name “cochenille”. Later, in the role of Pitichinaccio, he is caricatured in a Venetian mask and is finally compelled to don his own senile visage as the deaf servant Franz. – Very much like a figure having stepped out of Hoffmann’s Fairy-tales, we encounter Spalanzani, a ludicrous “ballyhoo man” who introduces himself as a designer of outward appearances – “physique”, creating and gearing human shapes to different degrees of imaginative conception.
Not only the producers and designers, but to a considerable extent too, Salzburg’s marionette makers and players have drawn their inspiration from Hoffmann’s creative powers as a poet …
Unlike other marionettes, Olympia, the mechanical doll – “an artistically contrived clockwork figure” as Hanslick wrote in his reviews appearing in Vienna in 1881 – is not manipulated by strings whose function is it to impart life to the “animated” figures. Instead, she is made to obey Spalanzani and ourselves by elaborate mechanism, some of which is mechanical, while another part incorporates an advanced system of electronic control.
In the same way as Giulietta and Antonia, the figure is, of course, designed with Stella’s distinguishing features. We also encounter Hoffmann’s demoniac opponent Lindorf, spruced up in Venice as “Dapertutto”, master of the beautiful courtisan and in the final episode as Doctor “Miracle”, a pale-faced “medicine man” guilty of the death of Hoffmann’s beloved.
Now that Hoffmann believes to have lost his soul to the beautiful Giulietta, we take leave of the fantastical settings associated with the first episodes and follow the poet’s fanciful recollections into the morbid narrowness of a music room which, responding to the charlatan’s display of artifice, is transformed into the expanse of a wraithlike burial ground.
Together with Hoffmann, we now depart the world of the fantastic and find ourselves back in Luther’s Wine Cellar. No original finale to the opera exists in Offenbach’s own head. We have refrained from repeating excerpts from Act 1 as a “substitute” for unfinished verses. Instead we close with the apparition of the Muse that emerged at the beginning to win back Hoffmann for herself – for the art of poetry – thus enabling her to complete her mission.
In 1913 the sculptor Anton Aicher founded the Salzburg Marionette Theatre, opening with a performance of Mozart's Bastien und Bastienne. His performances were such a success that in the autumn of that very first year he went on tour. The repertoire was expanded to include children's fairy-tales, with the "Kasperl" (perhaps equivalent to Mr. Punch) as the main figure.
In 1926, Hermann Aicher received the Marionette Theatre from his father Anton as a wedding present, and used his technical knowledge to create a real miniature stage. In collaboration with the Mozarteum Academy, he rehearsed increasingly ambitious operas, and soon the repertoire included Mozart's smaller operas, such as Apollo et Hyacinthus or Der Schauspieldirektor [The Impresario].
During the period 1927–34, the theatre gave guest performances in Hamburg, Vienna and Holland, and visited Istanbul, Sofia and Athens. Moscow and Leningrad followed in 1936, in venues seating 2,500 – which necessitated new, larger marionettes. The special attraction was the marionette of the legendary ballerina Anna Pavlova, dancing the "dying swan".
From 1940-44 the Salzburg marionettes were sent to the front. Hermann Aicher was summoned to military service in 1944, and the Theatre was closed. After the end of the war, the marionettes immediately resumed their activities, first of all for the occupying troops. In 1947, they gave the first post-war German-language guest performance in the famous Paris Théâtre des Champs-Elysées. There followed a busy period with tours, guest performances, and new productions including Mozart's five major operas.
In 1971 the present theatre, adapted specifically to the requirements of the marionettes, was opened with Rossini's Barber of Seville.
Hermann Aicher died shortly after his 75th birthday, and his daughter Gretl took over the theatre. The marionettes toured Europe, America and Asia, in New York, Paris, Italy, Switzerland, Hong Kong and Japan.
In 1991, to mark the 200th anniversary of Mozart's death, Götz Friedrich staged Mozart's Così fan tutte.
1994/95 brought TV and video recordings of all five major Mozart operas, with Sir Peter Ustinov as narrator, and from 1992–97 several productions were staged in co-operation with the Salzburg Landestheater. In 1996, the Salzburg marionettes collaborated with the Salzburg Festival in Carl Maria von Weber's opera Oberon, in the Small Festival Hall.
1998 saw the first collaboration with the Salzburg Easter Festival, in Sergey Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf. To mark the 85th anniversary of the Marionette Theatre, the "World of Marionettes" museum was opened in Hohensalzburg Fortress.
In 2001, the theatre premièred the first spoken play for many years, with Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. This was followed in December 2003 by the première of Humperdinck's opera Hansel and Gretel.
The 2006 Salzburg Festival marked the 250th anniversary of Mozart's birth with performances of all 22 operas; Bastien und Bastienne and Der Schauspieldirektor were staged in collaboration with the Marionette Theatre – a collaboration continued in 2007.
The world-famous Broadway musical The Sound of Music was premiered on November 2, 2007 in Dallas, Texas.
In 2010 the Salzburg Marionette Theatre staged Claude Debussy's puppet ballet La boîte à joujoux (The Toy Box). The world-famous pianist Andràs Schiff initiated the project which was premiered at the Ittinger Pfingsttage (Switzerland). 2011 and 2012 The Little Prince
and a short version of The Ring of the Nibelung in cooperation with Salzburg State Theatre were brought on stage.
The death of Gretl Aicher in 2012 marks the end of the Aicher family's ownership after three generations.
2013 the Salzburg Marionette Theatre celebrates its 100th anniversary with the production Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
and Alice in Wonderland.
In 2016, the Austrian UNESCO commission designated the operating technique developed by the Salzburg Marionette Theatre a "most highly developed form of puppet and figure theatre" and declared this sophisticated, fine-tuned method Intangible UNESCO Cultural Heritage (Austrian List). With new productions such as Fidelio by Ludwig van Beethoven, new scenic approaches are taken and the technique of puppetry is refined.
Since 1913 the Salzburg Marionette Theatre made 270 tours throughout the world.
Since 1971, the Salzburg Marionette Theatre has been housed the historic building at Schwarzstrasse 24
– on the right side of Salzburg's Old Town, between the Landestheater and the International Mozarteum Foundation, and between the River Salzach on the one side and the Mirabell Palace with its world-famous garden on the other.
After it was founded in a studio in the Künstlerhaus in 1913, then moved to the gymnasium of the old Borromäum, and spent ten years in the temporary premises of the Kapitelsaal, the Marionette Theatre settled in Schwarzstrasse 24. This building has its own chequered history: between the Villa Lasser (now the Mozarteum Foundation) and the municipal theatre, Count Arco-Zinneberg's Kaltenhausen brewery had a restaurant and function-rooms built in 1893. The architect was Carl Demel, the master builder Valentin Ceconi. In 1897, the function-rooms were converted into the Hotel Mirabell.
Until 1968, the Mirabell Casino was part of the hotel. In 1970 reconstruction work was begun, in order to give the Marionette Theatre a new home. The former dining-room of the hotel was converted into the auditorium with the stage. It is still impressive, with its elaborate stucco-work and opulent painting. In the course of repairs to the foyer in 2000, the original stucco-work was discovered, and since 2003 the foyer ceiling can be admired in its former splendour.
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