Peabody Opera Theatre presents

Les contes d’Hoffmann

by Jacques Offenbach

libretto by Jules Barbier

after a play by Barbier and Carré
based on the stories of E. T. A. Hoffmann

Peabody Concert Orchestra

Hajime Teri Murai, music director

Garnett Bruce, stage director

Matthew Saunders, set designer

Eileen Cornett, musical preparation

Wednesday–Saturday March 7–10 2007, at 7:30 PM
Miriam A. Friedberg Concert Hall
Peabody Conservatory of Music
1 East Mt. Vernon Place
Baltimore, Maryland
Admission $24 / Seniors $12 / Students with ID $10
Box Office: 410/659-8100 x4415, or book online

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After writing almost one hundred operettas, Jacques Offenbach turned to lyric opera for The Tales of Hoffmann, which was to be his final work. The fame he gained through the captivating melodies and passionate lyricism of this colorful score assured him enduring fame as a serious composer, alongside his unmatched but essentially ephemeral reputation as a writer of comedy. Unfortunately, Offenbach died a few months before the 1881 premiere, and the opera was not then given in its complete form. Various editions over the years have restored Offenbach’s original intentions and filled in gaps with other music by the composer, but everything is of such quality that the only problem is an embarrassment of riches.

Set design by Matthew Saunders
The prologue to the opera
Set designs by Matthew Saunders

The librettist Jules Barbier adapted the opera from a play which he wrote with Michel Carré based on the stories of the writer (and opera composer and conductor) Ernst Theodor Amadeus Hoffmann (1776–1822). One of the leading figures of the romantic era, Hoffmann wrote stories which were rich in atmosphere and filled with touches of the demonic, miraculous, or grotesque. Barbier’s libretto frames three of these stories between scenes in which Hoffmann is drinking in a tavern near the opera house in Nuremberg. Waiting for an assignation with Stella, the company’s prima donna, Hoffmann regales his companions with stories of his former lost loves — a trajectory which reveals his progressive moral decline. When Stella finally arrives, Hoffmann sees her only as a combination of his former failures, and rejects her. In all his adventures, he is thwarted by his nemesis, who appears in different guises in each scene. But he is also accompanied variously by his Muse and his friend Nicklausse, who tell him that great art can be harvested from passion and despair.

Set design by Matthew Saunders
A moment in the Paris act (Olympia)

In the first story, which is set in Paris, Hoffmann is given magic glasses by the evil Dr. Coppelius, which lead him to believe that Olympia, an ingenious mechanical doll that can sing like a bird, is a flesh-and-blood woman. After Hoffmann has become besotted with her, Coppelius smashes the doll, leaving Hoffmann to the mockery of the bystanders. The next story is set in Munich. Hoffmann’s new love, Antonia, is the daughter of a famous singer who had died of consumption, and a singer herself. But she also carries the disease and has been forbidden to sing — an injunction which she breaks in her love duet with Hoffmann. Her end, however, comes at the hand of the sinister Dr. Miracle, who conjures up the ghost of her mother, getting her to sing with her until she dies. The final scene is set in Venice, and opens to the famous Barcarolle. Hoffmann is attracted to the courtesan Giulietta, but she falls under the spell of the magician Dapertutto, who teaches her how to steal Hoffmann’s reflection in the mirror. Once more, Hoffmann’s foolishness leads to disaster, leaving him in despair at yet another betrayal.

Set design by Matthew Saunders
A moment in the Munich act (Antonia)

Hajime Teri Murai conducts the Peabody Concert Orchestra for this production. The stage director is Garnett Bruce, marking his first production as a regular member of the Peabody Opera faculty, after two major productions as a guest artist (The Abduction from the Seraglio and The Alien Corn). The scenic designer is Matthew Saunders, who has devised a set making use of continually-changing projections, some of which are illustrated on this page. Like Falstaff last year, this is a co-production with Temple University in Philadelphia.

Set design by Matthew Saunders
A moment in the Venice act (Giulietta)