The Tales of Hoffmann
Jacques Offenbach’s opéra fantastique The Tales of Hoffmann is one of the most popular operas, and one of the most cryptic and most difficult to stage. The protagonist is the writer and artist E.T.A. Hoffmann, whose fantastic tales provide the subject matter. The opera was intended as the composer’s chef d’œuvre; however, he died before completing it, and we do not know how he had planned the ending. The work is set in a fantasy world that demands a reality of its own – and is thus ideal for the Salzburg Marionette Theatre and its art of illusion. The music used is a recording by the Suisse Romande Chorus and Orchestra conducted by Richard Bonynge, who followed the latest research on possible original versions. Stage-set and lighting are those by Günther Schneider-Siemssen, staging by Wolf Dieter Ludwig, and the marionettes’ heads by Edmund Pointner.
The splendid, elaborate costumes were made in the workshops of the Marionette Theatre to designs by Bernd Dieter Müller.
Thoughts on the production of The Tales of Hoffmann, by Wolf-Dieter Ludwig
Why is the Salzburg Marionette Theatre – famed worldwide as a Mozart theatre – planning to bring Les Contes d’Hoffmann back to magical life?
The background story: As a tribute to Salzburg’s genius loci, Ernst Theodor Wilhelm Hoffmann – cultured jurist, writer and artist of the Romantic era, music critic and composer in the spirit and style of Mozart – had even changed his given name Wilhelm to Amadeus, so we know his initials only as E.T.A.
Also, during the final year of his life, when he was trying to complete the opera in the peaceful ambience of the Henri IV pavilion in St Germain – Offenbach increasingly mixed up his sheets of manuscript with those of Mozart’s biography, which he knew by heart, and which aroused him emotionally. Richard Wagner, too, had recognised that Offenbach composed with an ease similar to that of the divine Mozart. And Rossini called him the “Mozart of the Champs-Elysées”.
We know that Offenbach was unable to complete his masterpiece , and that many of the finest melodies were originally intended for other works – such as the famous Barcarolle from the overture to Les fées du Rhin, whose “diamond aria” in the unfinished Venice act was written by someone else. We know the work only as a torso, although it has been performed often enough in innumerable arrangements counter to Offenbach’s intentions.
Jakob “Jacques” Offenbach (b 20 June 1819 in Cologne; d 5 October 1880 in Paris) was a French composer of German origin, and a cellist. He is considered the founder of modern operetta as a recognised independent genre of music theatre. His best-known pieces are the Cancan from Orpheus in the Underworld and the Barcarolle from The Tales of Hoffmann.