In three acts by JULES BARBIER.
Music by JACQUES OFFENBACH.
In this opera the composer far surpasses all his other compositions.
It is his swan's song, for he composed it in the summer of 1880 and he
died in October of the same year after having given his best to the
world, a true work of genius, so full of grace, of delicate feeling and
of phantastic loveliness, that nobody can hear it without being
captivated by its sweetness.
The libretto is taken from three different tales of E. Th. A. Hoffmann,
who was not only an author and a poet, but a musician and composer
worthy of note.
His weird tales were much read in the beginning of the last century.
The first scene, a prologue, is laid in Luther's famous wine-cellar in
The hero of the opera, Hoffmann himself is there, drinking with a
number of gay young students, his friends. He is in a despondent mood
and when urged by his companions to tell them the reason of his
depression, he declares himself ready to relate the story of his three
love adventures, while his friends sit round a bowl of flaming strong
Now the scene changes and the curtain rises on the first act. We find
Hoffmann in Spalanzani's house. This man is a famous physiologist, and
Hoffmann has entered his house as his pupil in order to make the
acquaintance of the professor's beautiful daughter Olympia, whom he has
seen at a distance.
This daughter is nothing more than an automaton, that has been
manufactured by Spalanzani and his friend, the wizard Coppelius. This
doll can sing, dance and speak like a human being. Spalanzani hopes to
become rich by means of this clever work of art. As half of Olympia
(this is the doll's name), belongs to Coppelius, Spalanzani buys her
from him, paying him by a draft on the Jew Elias, though he knows him
to be bankrupt.--Hoffmann has been persuaded by Coppelius to purchase a
pair of spectacles, through which he looks at Olympia, and taking her
for a lovely living maiden falls violently in love with her.
Spalanzani now gives a grand entertainment, at which he presents his
daughter Olympia, (the Automaton), who surprises everybody by her
loveliness and her fine singing.--Hoffmann is completely bewitched and
as soon as he finds himself alone with her, he makes her an ardent
declaration of love and is not at all discouraged by her sitting stock
still and only answering from time to time a dry little "ja, ja". At
last he tries to embrace her, but as soon as he touches her she rises
and trips away.
Hoffmann's friend Niklas finds him in the seventh heaven of rapture and
vainly endeavours to enlighten him as to the reason of the beauty's
stiffness and heartlessness.
When the dancing begins Hoffmann engages Olympia, and they dance on,
always faster and faster, until Hoffmann sinks down in a swoon, his
spectacles being broken by the fall. Olympia spins on alone as fast as
ever and presently dances out of the room, Cochenille vainly trying to
stop her. Coppelius now enters in a fury having found out that
Spalanzani's draft on Elias is worthless. He rushes to the room, into
which Olympia has vanished and when Hoffmann revives he hears a
frightful sound of breaking and smashing, and Spalanzani bursts in with
the news that Coppelius has broken his valuable automaton. Thus
Hoffmann learns that he has been in love with a senseless doll. The
guests, who now enter shout with laughter at his confusion, while
Spalanzani and Coppelius load each other with abuse.
The second act takes place in Giulietta's palace in Venice. Everything
breathes joy and love.--Both Niklas and Hoffmann are courting the
beautiful lady. Niklas warns his friend against her, but
Hoffmann only laughs at the idea that he is likely to love a courtezan.
The latter is entirely in the hand of the wizard Dapertutto, who acts
towards Hoffmann as an evil spirit under three different names in each
of his three love affairs. Giulietta has already stolen for him the
shadow of her former lover Schlemihl; now Dapertutto wounds her vanity,
by telling her, that Hoffmann has spoken disdainfully of her, and makes
her promise to win the young man's love and by that means to make him
give her his reflection from a looking-glass.
She succeeds easily, and there ensues a charming love-duet, during
which they are surprised by the jealous Schlemihl. Giulietta tells
Hoffmann, that her former lover has the key of her apartments in his
pocket, she then departs leaving the two lovers and Dapertutto alone.
When Hoffmann peremptorily demands the key from Schlemihl the latter
refuses to give it up. The result is a duel, for which Dapertutto
offers Hoffmann his sword.--
After a few passes Schlemihl is killed and Dapertutto disappears. A
few moments afterwards Giulietta's gondola passes before the balcony
and Hoffmann sees her leaning on Dapertutto's arm, singing a mocking
farewell to the poor deserted lover.
The third act takes place in Rath Krespel's house. His daughter
Antonia has inherited her mother's gift of a beautiful voice, but alas,
also her tendency to consumption. The greatest joy of her life
is singing, which however her father has forbidden, knowing this
exertion to be fatal to his darling.
She is engaged to be married to Hoffmann, but Krespel is averse to the
marriage, seeing in it another danger for his daughter's health, as
Hoffmann is musical and encourages Antonia to sing. Krespel has
forbidden his servant Franz to let anybody see Antonia, while he goes
out of the house, but Franz, who is very deaf, misunderstands his
master's orders and joyously welcomes his mistress's suitor. A
delicate love-scene follows, during which Antonia shows her lover, that
her voice is as fine as ever. When they hear Krespel returning Antonia
retires to her own room, but Hoffmann hides himself in an alcove,
determined to learn why Antonia is so closely hidden from the world.
Immediately after the father's return Doctor Mirakel enters; Krespel is
mortally afraid of this mysterious man, as he believes him to have
killed his wife by his drugs and that now he aims at his daughter's
This Mirakel is a demon, who acts as in the two former instances as
Hoffmann's evil genius.--From the conversation of the two men Hoffmann
learns the secret of his bride's dangerous inheritance, and when
Mirakel has at last been driven out of the room, and Krespel has left
it too; the lovers both come back again. Hoffmann by earnest entreaty
succeeds in gaining Antonia's promise never to sing any more. But when
he has left Mirakel returns and by invoking the spirit of her
mother he goads her on to break her promise. She begins to sing and he
urges her on, until she sinks back exhausted. It is thus that her
father and her lover find her, and after a few sweet words of farewell
she dies in their arms.
The Epilogue takes us back to Luther's cellar, where Hoffmann's
companions are still sitting over their punch, the steam of which forms
clouds over their heads, while they thank their poor, heart-broken
friend for his three stories with ringing cheers.
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