Les Contes d’Hoffmann is the first title of the new Venetian theatre season. “Premiere” on 24 November, in the presence of the President of the Republic Sergio Mattarella.
Offenbach’s Les contes d’Hoffmann, a piece of opéra fantastique, is the upcoming co-production of Fenice Theatre, Sydney Opera House, Royal Opera House of London, and Opéra de Lyon, with its Venice premiere due November 24. In its Venice iteration, the show will by directed by Damiano Michieletto, orchestra and chorus conducted by Antonello Manacorda, and will star Ivan Ayon Rivas, Alex Esposito, Carmela Remigio, Veronique Gens, and Rocío Pérez. The opera hadn’t been at Fenice since 1994. It had a troubled history, too: The Tales of Hoffmann originate from Jules Barbier’s same-named drama, itself an adaptation of an earlier theatre piece authored by Barber and Michel Carré in 1851 inspired by three fantastic-demonic by E.T.A. Hoffmann (The Sandman, The Lost Reflection, The Cremona Violin). Offenbach composed it between the 1870s and early 1880s. The opera had its premiere at the Opéra-Comique in Paris in 1881.
Offenbach knew – feared – that his over one hundred pieces of opéra comique might pass into oblivion soon. The Tales of Hoffmann were his attempt to garner recognition at a higher level and leave the world a piece of opera of higher status and quality. Offenbach’s work was harder than expected: he was of frail health and had to work while bedridden, the theatre he contracted for the premiere bankrupted before that could happen, performers signed contracts elsewhere and were unavailable by the time a new theatre – the Opéra-Comique – was chosen. Offenbach left the opera unfinished and died before he could see it executed. The action is set in different cities in the early 1800s: the prologue and epilogue in Nuremberg, and the second, third, and fourth acts in Paris, Munich, and Venice, respectively. Hoffman is a man who had too much to drink and has too much to tell about his great loves: a sex doll, an innocent singer, a duplicitous courtesan, and… one woman that binds them all together. Who is this mysterious muse? Whose shadow follows Hoffmann’s every step? The last and greatest of Offenbach’s operas is an exhilarating blend of emotions and dazzling music, including the famous, diabolic Doll Song.