​The Tales of Hoffmann – What’s It All About?

Wednesday, 22 August, 2018

The Tales of Hoffmann tells the story of the writer Hoffmann as he recounts the tales of the great loves of his life. But with the story moving from present day to stories of times past – real or imagined - and many singers playing multiple roles, it can be hard to know what’s what and who’s who as Hoffmann delves into his past loves and life. Here’s all you need to know to get you from start to finish in one piece.

  1. Hoffmann is a writer. He is in love with the opera singer Stella but his self-destructive relationship with his art and his taste for alcohol get in the way. To make things worse, Hoffmann faces a rival for her love, and the interfering Councillor Lindorf attempts to woo her away from our hero. The story begins with the prologue set in the present day as Hoffmann waits for Stella, with each of the three following acts dedicated to one of Hoffmann’s tales of his great loves.
  2. The character of Nicklausse is Hoffmann’s friend, confidant and advisor. Nicklausse has their own feelings for Hoffmann, and often can only look on helplessly as Hoffmann dives recklessly into life and love. But Nicklausse is also consoled by the knowledge that Hoffmann’s suffering will lead to him making great art.
  3. At the interval of Stella’s opening night, Hoffmann drunkenly tells the stories of his three great loves - Olympia, Antonia and Giulietta. He’s such a great storyteller that everyone stays to listen instead of going back to the theatre. Each of these three loves represents a version of Stella, Hoffmann’s current obsession, which is why Offenbach indicated that one soprano should take on each of these four very different vocal roles.
  4. The bass role of Lindorf also appears in each of the stories in different guises as Coppélius, Doctor Miracle and Dappertutto. Each of these characters in their turn gets in the way of Hoffmann’s hopes of love and happiness, mirroring Lindorf and his interference in Hoffmann’s relationship with Stella.
  5. At its essence The Tales of Hoffmann is a struggle between art and life, with Stella representing Hoffmann’s opportunity for real love, despite the romantic draw of a life dedicated to his writing. In the end, Hoffmann struggles to distinguish between fact and fiction, and rejects Stella in favour of using his suffering to create his art.

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