Offenbach: 'The Tales of Hoffman' Three fanciful tales unfold in a single, compelling opera — a popular classic combining instantly appealing music with astonishing emotional depth.

Offenbach's Triple Bill: 'The Tales Of Hoffmann'

From the Grand Theatre of Geneva

An Audio Introduction to the Opera

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When Jacques Offenbach began writing The Tales of Hoffmann, in 1877, he hoped the opera would boost his reputation to a whole new level. It did exactly that — but unfortunately, the composer never lived to see it.

The Hit Single

In the first of Hoffman's three tales, he falls for Olympia, a mechanical doll that must — literally — be wound up to deliver a treacherous, coloratura aria known as the "Doll's Song." Soprano Patricia Petibon sings it in the Geneva production.

'Doll's Song'

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The B Side

The last of Offenbach's three tales begins with the opera's most famous melody, a gentle barcarolle, sung by Stella Doufexis as Nicklausse and Maria Riccarda Wesseling as Giulietta.

'Barcarolle'

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Tenor Marc Laho stars in the title role, with mezzo-soprano Stella Doufexis as his Muse, in The Tales of Hoffmann from Geneva. GTG/Isabelle Meister hide caption

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GTG/Isabelle Meister

Tenor Marc Laho stars in the title role, with mezzo-soprano Stella Doufexis as his Muse, in The Tales of Hoffmann from Geneva.

GTG/Isabelle Meister

During his lifetime, Offenbach became world famous as the composer of operettas — often lightweight comedies, boasting scores of catchy tunes that have often outlived the works they were written for. The prime example is the ubiquitous "Can-Can" from his operetta Orpheus in the Underworld — a number that tosses out three or four instantly recognizable melodies, all within the space of about ninety seconds.

Still, despite his fame, Offenbach wanted to be known for more than just his frothy operettas, and hoped the Tales of Hoffmann would establish him as a recognized master of serious opera.

The opera is based on a play by the writers Jules Barbier, who wrote the opera's libretto, and Michel Carre. The play takes the real life German poet, E.T.A. Hoffmann, and makes him a character in some of his own, fanciful stories. Offenbach's drama follows the same scheme, placing the title character into three, fanciful stories of failed love. The result is one of the grandest and most expressive of all 19th-century French operas — achieving a combination of emotional depth and musical brilliance that only the finest opera composers ever equaled.

The Tales of Hoffmann was scheduled for a premiere at a Paris theater called the Gaite-Lyrique — during its 1877-78 season. When that theatre suffered budget cutbacks, Offenbach continued work on the opera — now intended for another theater, the Opera-Comique. But Offenbach died in 1880, while the production was still in rehearsal, leaving the score incomplete.

Over the years, all the way to the 1980s, scholars continued to find manuscripts for the opera that were left behind, and many different versions of the score have been assembled. But despite those difficulties, The Tales of Hoffmann has long been one of the most popular operas in the standard repertory.

On World of Opera, host Lisa Simeone presents Offenbach's magnum opus in a production from the Grand Theatre of Geneva. The title character is played by Tenor Marc Laho. Hoffmann's three loves are sung by three different sopranos — Patricia Petibon, Rachel Harnisch and Maria Riccarda Wesseling — while the triple villain roles are all sung by bass-baritone Nicolas Cavallier.

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