Tom Creed Discusses His Inspiration For The Tales Of Hoffmann

Wednesday, 12 September, 2018
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We spoke to The Tales of Hoffmann director, Tom Creed, about his inspiration for this production of Offenbach's masterpiece. From Black Mirror to the drinking of great American writers...here's what inspired him.

When preparing a new production of an opera from the historical repertoire, my goal is always to find a particular contemporary context to get to the heart of the composer’s intentions and let them resonate for the present. I want the characters to live and breathe with a 21st-century sensibility, and I read and research around the key ideas in the opera in an attempt to create a deeper understanding of them and to spark ideas for how we might bring them to the stage.

For The Tales of Hoffmann I was eager to understand Hoffmann as a writer adrift in various European cities, meeting strange characters and having failed attempts at connection with a number of lovers. I was also eager to discover the connection between his drinking and how he represents his life through his stories, given that the opera starts and ends over beers and all the stories are told to drinking buddies in a watering hole in some city or other. I needed to find contemporary equivalents for the settings of the three stories, and to imagine how Hoffmann’s experience of technology, illness and art might be depicted.

Writers and Drinking

Olivia Laing is one of the great contemporary writers on life and art: her work is a highly personal mixture of autobiography and reflections on art. Her book The Trip to Echo Spring explores the relationship between alcohol and writing in the lives of great American authors like F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and Tennessee Williams. In particular her observations on how these writers depict themselves, the people around them and their experience with the demon drink provided a window into how Hoffmann might see the world and live in it.

Somewhere In Europe

Rob Doyle is one of the most exciting of the new generation of Irish writers, and his short story collection This Is The Ritual depicts a series of strung out writers scattered across different European cities, meeting mysterious strangers and lovers, losing them again, failing into existential crises and disappearing into click-holes on the dark corners of the internet. It felt very close to the experience of Hoffmann and helped me start imagining the strange situations in which he might find himself.

Twenty First Century Uncanny

Falling in love with a robot, a mysterious illness that will kill you if you sing, a woman dared to steal a lover’s reflection. These uncanny experiences at the heart of Hoffmann’s three stories reminded me more than anything of the television series Black Mirror, in which the unexpected consequences of new media and technology are taken to their limits and beyond to simultaneously harrowing and hilarious ends.

Life and Art

During our conversations in the early part of the process of conceiving this production for the stage, the designer Katie Davenport mentioned Ruben Östlund’s 1997 Palme D’Or winning film The Square, a smart, hilarious and pointed satire on the art world, political correctness and freedom of expression. The film provided a reference point for the various launch events staged in the production, where the guests are more interested in the reception afterwards than the launch itself, and where a formal cultural occasion is interrupted by a disruptive visitor.

The Tales of Hoffmann runs from the 14 September to the 6 October. Full venue and booking details here. http://www.irishnationalopera....