Sunday, September 21, 2014

Ghost of Sunday Classics: Hoffmann just can't get over his "three mistresses"

"It's a song of love that soars aloft sadlly or madly": Nazhmiddin Mavlyanov (Hoffmann) and Hibla Gerzmava (Antonia) at Moscow's Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko Music Theater

by Ken

In preparation for our quick survey of the poet Hoffmann's account of his three "mad loves," as set out last week, in last night's preview we made the acquaintance of the first of them, Olympia-- the "artist," according to Hoffmann's reckoning. (We'll come back to this in a moment.) As I noted last night, making Olympia's acquaintance is more than Hoffmann did before he fell soul-convulsingly in love with her. (It doesn't help that the poor fellow is literally looking at her through the equivalent of rose-colored glasses, sold to him by one of Olympia's creators, the eccentric inventor Coppélius.) Of course this is only the teeniest exaggeration of the way many of us so frequently fall just as consumingly in love as our poor hero has.

As noted, we're going to sample some of the astonishing music by which Offenbach captured the states of need and urgency and bliss that afflict Hoffmann in all three of his mad stories. First, though, let's meet another, very different object of the poet's passion: Antonia, one of the theatrical literature's great creations.

(Note that we're going to hear a sprinkling of German-language performances today. As with Gounod's Faust, the German-sourced Tales of Hoffmann -- the fantastic fables of E.T.A. Hoffmann, the source of the opera's tales, are standbys for German readers -- was taken up by German audiences if anything faster and more avidly than by French ones.)

OFFENBACH, The Tales of Hoffmann, Act III, Orchestral introduction and Romance, Antonia, "Elle a fui, la tourterelle" ("She has flown, the turtledove")
Munich. The home of Crespel. A bizarrely furnished room. At right a clavichord. Violins suspended from the wall. At left a window. At the back two doors, one the door to Antonia's room; in front, at left, a window casement that leads to a balcony, which is closed by a curtain. Between the two doors at the rear a large portrait of a woman hanging on the wall. The sun is setting. ANTONIA is seated at the harpsichord.

Romance, Antonia
She has flown, the turtledove!
Ah, a memory too sweet!
An image to cruel!
Alas, at my knees
I hear him, I see him!
Alas, at my knees
I hear him, I see him!
[She walks to the front of the stage.]
She has flown, the turtledove,
she has flown far from you;
but she is always faithful
and she keeps her faith!
My dearly loved, my voice calls to you!
All my heart is yours!
All my heart is yours!
She has flown, the turtledove,
she has flown, she has flown far from you!
[She approaches the harpsichord again and continues, standing, leafing through the music.]
Ah, dear flower that has just bloomed,
in pity answer me!
You that know if he still loves me,
if he keeps faith with me!
My dearly beloved, my voice implores you,
ah, let your heart come to me,
let your heart come to me!
She has flown, the turtledove,
she has flow, she has flown far from you.
[She lets herself fall on the couch in front of the harpsichord.]

[in German] Julia Varady (s), Antonia; Munich Radio Orchestra, Heinz Wallberg, cond. EMI, recorded 1979

Rosalind Plowright (s), Antonia; Symphony Orchestra of the Opéra National du Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie (Brussels), Sylvain Cambreling, cond. EMI, recorded June-July 1988

Victoria de los Angeles (s), Antonia; Paris Conservatory Orchestra, André Cluytens, cond. EMI, recorded 1964

Beverly Sills (s), Antonia; London Symphony Orchestra, Julius Rudel, cond. ABC-EMI, recorded July-Aug. 1972


"The poet Hoffmann and the legend of Kleinzach" (Sept. 14)
Preview, "The name of the first was Olympia" (Sept. 19)
"Hoffmann just can't get over is 'three mistresses'" (Sept. 21)
Preview, "Our Frantz knows it's all a matter of technique" (Sept. 27)
"Who is the author of Hoffmann's misfortunes?" (Sept. 28)
Hofmann's current great love is the worshipped actress La Stella, who is performing this very night in the theater next door to Luther's. He has been hoping for an assignation, and Stella has indeed send him a hand-delivered note of invitation, but the hand that delivered the note was unfortunately that of the not-very-bright Andrès, who has delivered it into the hand of Hoffmann's mortal enemy, the evil Councilor Lindorf. In his edgy state, Hoffmann has made light of the professed girlfriends of young Nathanaël and Hermann.

Again we're going to hear a near-bewildering assortment of Hoffmanns, starting and finishing with a pair (Léopold Simoneau, Nicolai Gedda) for whom the French language isn't a mortal enemy to be vanquished by brute force.

As for the "three mistresses" of whom Hoffmann speaks -- which we quickly learn are a mystery to his bosom buddy Nicklausse, who you'd think would know -- and the extent to which the three "mad loves" of which we will hear really are one and the same person, not to mention the extent to which Hoffmann is fabulizing real events in his account, these are some of the speculations that make Hoffmann himself so fascinating as we contemplate the wreck that is his personal life.

The Tales of Hoffmann: Prologue, Hermann,"Ta maîtresse est donc un trésor" ("Your mistress then is a treasure?") . . . Hoffmann, "Ma maîtresse? Oui, Stella" ("My mistress? Yes, Stella")
HERMANN: Your mistress then is a treasure,
that you're so contemptuous of ours?
HOFFMANN: My mistress? (Yes, Stella!
Three women in the same woman!
Three souls in a lone soul --
artist, maiden, and courtesan! There!)
My mistress? No! Say rather: three mistresses!
Charming trio of enchantresses
who divided up my days.
Would you like an account of those mad loves?
STUDENTS: Yes! Yes! Yes!

Bernard Lefort (bs), Hermann; Léopold Simoneau (t), Hoffmann; Chorus and Orchestra of the Concerts de Paris, Pierre-Michel Le Conte, cond. Philips-Epic, recorded 1958

Urban Malmberg (bs-b), Hermann; Plácido Domingo (t), Hoffmann; Choeurs de Radio France, Orchestre National de France, Seiji Ozawa, cond. DG, recorded 1986

Jürgen Hartfiel (b), Hermann; Francisco Araiza (t), Hoffmann; Leipzig Radio Chorus, Staatskapelle Dresden, Jeffrey Tate, cond. Philips, recorded 1987-89

Calvin Marsh (b), Hermann; Richard Tucker (t), Hoffmann; Metropolitan Opera Chorus and Orchestra, Pierre Monteux, cond. Live performance, Dec. 3, 1955

Jacques Pruvost (b), Hermann; Nicolai Gedda (t), Hoffmann; Choeurs René Duclos, Paris Conservatory Orchestra, André Cluytens, cond. EMI, recorded 1964


. . . that results from the sadly unfinished state in which Offenbach left the opera, complicated by the vast quantities of additional manuscript music discovered which did not figure in the creation of the once-fairly-standard performing edition cobbled together by well-meaning hands in the years immediately following the composer's death. Virtually all of such music that I've heard -- and I've heard a heap, shoved into the score by also-well-meaning editors who have, it seems to me, musical judgment vaastly inferior to that of the much-maligned early editors -- is mediocre, hugely inferior to the level of the music that has traditionally been performed. I have to assume that Offenbach himself had already rejected most if not all of this music, so that while it's certifiably "authentic" in the sense of having come from the composer's own hand, I suspect that the poor composer is being shockingly second-guessed -- and a once-great opera now comes to us stuffed with musical crap.

As I said, I don't really want to get into that fight, but one textual issue we can't escape, and that is the order of the scenes. I happily accept the long-familiar framework of a Prologue and Epilogue set in Luther's tavern, framing three acts telling the stories of the three "mad loves," and I don't think there's any question that Offenbach and his librettists, Jules Barbier and Michel Carré, intended the order to be (1) Olympia, (2) Antonia, (3) Giulietta, as reflected in Hoffmann's summary of his three mistresses as "artist, maiden, and courtesan." And once upon a time I used to tut-tut about the almost-invariable switching of (2) and (3).

Nevertheless, I got over it. The Venice act (Giulietta) is the one left in most fragmentary form by Offenbach, and I suppose it's possible that if he had lived to hammer out all the musico-dramatic issues, he could have created an act that would indeed have topped the Munich act (Antonia). Possible, I say, but I don't think terribly likely, because the Antonia act is one of the great operatic creations, and Antonia herself one of the most cherishable of operatic heroines. Only a dunderhead would even think of asking an audience to sit through any version of the Giulietta act after the Antonia one. So that's the order in which we're going to peek at them.


Considering how consumed with passion for Olympia Hoffmann is without ever having actually met her, can you imagine what will happen when he actually does?

Act I, "Duo," Hoffmann-Olympia, "Ils se sont éloignés enfin!" ("They've gone away at last!") . . . "Ah, vivre deux" ("Ah, to live as two")
HOFFMANN: Ah! they've gone away finally! I can breathe!
Alone! Alone, the two of us!
[Approaching OLYMPIA] How much I have to say to you!
O my Olympia! Let me admire you!
With your charming look let me become intoxicated!
[He touches her shoulder.]
OLYMPIA: Yes! Yes!
HOFFMANN: Is this not a dream brought on by fever?
I thought I saw a sigh escape from your lips!
[He touches her again.]
OLYMPIA: Yes! Yes!
HOFFMANN: Sweet avowal! Pledge of our loves!
You belong to me! Our hearts are united forever!
Ah! to live as two, having only one same hope,
one same memory!
Sharing happiness, sharing suffering, yes suffering,
sharing the future.
Let, let my flame
pour day into you! Ah!
Let your soul unfold
in the rays of love!
[He presses OLYMPIA's hand with passion; the latter promptly gets up, wanders around the room in different directions, and finally leaves by one of the doors at the back without using her hands to push the tapestry aside. HOFFMANN gets up and follows OLYMPIA in her turnings.]
HOFFMANN: You flee me? . . . What have I done? . . . You don't answer me? . . . Speak! Have I irritated you? . . . Ah! I will follow your steps!
[At the moment when HOFFMANN is going to exit into OLYMPIA's suite, NICKLAUSSE appears at one of the doors and calls to him.]
NICKLAUSSE: Hey, for goodness' sake, moderate your zeal!
Do you want us to get drunk without you?
HOFFMANN [with rapture': Nicklausse, I am loved by her!
Loved by her! Almighty God!
NICKLAUSSE : By my word,
if you knew what they're saying about your beauty!
HOFFMANN: What can they say? What?
NICKLAUSSE : That she's dead!
HOFFMANN: Merciful God!
NICKLAUSSE : Or was never alive!
HOFFMANN: Nicklausse! I am loved by her!
Loved! Almighty God!
[He leaves rapidly. NICKLAUSSE follows him.]

Léopold Simoneau (t), Hoffmann; Pierette Alarie (s), Olympia; Nata Tuescher (ms), Nicklausse; Orchestra of the Concerts de Paris, Pierre-Michel Le Conte, cond. Philips-Epic, recorded 1958

Francisco Araiza (t), Hoffmann; Eva Lind (s), Olympia; Anne Sofie von Otter (ms), Nicklausse; Staatskapelle Dresden, Jeffrey Tate, cond. Philips, recorded 1987-89

Raoul Jobin (t), Hoffmann; Renée Doria (s), Olympia; Fanély Revoil (ms), Nicklausse; Orchestra of the Opéra-Comique (Paris), André Cluytens, cond. EMI, recorded 1948


Talk about being in over your head! Hoffmann doesn't come out looking terribly well in his other tales, but in this one he has no idea who or what he's dealing with. I'm not going to try to explain the plot of this act, but I think you can guess that a woman who is so urgently importuning her supposed lover to get the hell away from her but to leave behind his reflection, his soul and his life, is possibly not in the grip of undying love. But has any lover expressed himself more rapturously than Hoffmann in "O Dieu, de quelle ivresse!"? Anyone who thinks this is going to end well -- well, I don't think I can help you.

Tales of Hoffmann: Act II, Duo, Giulietta, "Malheureux! Tu ne comprends donc pas!" ("Unfortunate man! You don't understand then") . . . Hoffmann, "O Dieu, de quelle ivresse!" ("O God, with what rapture"
GIULIETTA: Unfortunate man! You don't understand then
that an hour, that a moment can be fatal for you?
That my love will ruin you forever if you stay?
That Schlémil this evening can strike you down in my arms?
Don't repulse my prayer;
my life is yours entirely.
Tomorrow I promise to follow your steps.
HOFFMANN: O God, with what rapture do you embrace my soul?
Like a divine concert your voice has penetrated me!
With a sweet and burning fire my being is devoured!
Your looks have poured their flame into mine
like radiant stars,
and I feel, my dearly beloved,
your perfumed breath pass
over my lips and over my eyes!
O God, with what rapture do you embrace my soul?
Your looks have poured their flame into mine!
GIULIETTA [rising while smiling]:
Until then, however, fortify my courage
by leaving me something of yours.
HOFFMANN: What do you mean?
GIULIETTA: Listen, and don't laugh at me!
[She turns HOFFMANN's face toward the mirror.]
What I want from you is your faithful image,
which reproduces your features, your look, your face,
this reflection that you see bending over mine.
HOFFMANN: What? My reflection! What madness!
GIULIETTA: No! For it can be detached
from the polished glass
to come and hide itself all complete in my heart.
HOFFMANN: In your heart?
GIULIETTA: In your heart. It's I who beg you for it!
Hoffmann, grant my wish!
HOFFMANN: You wish it?
GIULIETTA: I wish it. Yes, wisdom or madness,
I await it, I want it!
[She draws him to her.]
If your presence is taken away from me,
I wish to keep of you
your reflection, your soul and your life.
Friend, give them to me!
Your reflection, give it to me -- to me! Ah!
Today tears,
but tomorrow, heaven!
HOFFMANN [overlapping]: Ecstasy! Unsatiated rapture!
My reflection, my soul and my life!
Yours, always yours! Ah!
Today tears,
but tomorrow, heaven!
[SCHLÉMIL enters, followed by NICKLAUSSE, DAPERTUTTO, PITICHINACCO, and some other guests.]

Edita Gruberová (s), Giulietta; Plácido Domingo (t), Hoffmann; Orchestre National de France, Seiji Ozawa, cond. DG, recorded 1986

Risë Stevens (ms), Giulietta; Richard Tucker (t), Hoffmann; Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Pierre Monteux, cond. Live performance, Dec. 3, 1955

Vina Bovy (s), Giulietta; René Maison (t), Hoffmann; Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Maurice Abravanel, cond. Live performance, Jan. 23, 1937


Act III, Hoffmann-Antonia duo, "C'est une chanson d'amour" ("It's a song of love") ..  . "J'ai le bonheur dans l'âme" ("I have happiness in my soul")
HOFFMANN: "It's a song of love
that soars aloft
sadly or madly . . . "
ANTONIA [entering suddenly: Hoffmann!
HOFFMANN [standing and taking ANTONIA in his arms]: Antonia!
[NICKLAUSSE withdraws.]
ANTONIA: Ah! I knew well that you still loved me!
HOFFMANN: My heart told me rightly that I was regretted!
I have happiness in my soul!
Tomorrow you'll be my wife!
Happy spouses, happy spouses,
the future is ours!
ANTONIA: I have happiness in my soul!
Tomorrow I'll be your wife!
Happy spouses, happy spouses,
the future is ours!
ANTONIA and HOFFMANN: To love let us be faithful!
May its eternal chains
keep our hearts
victorious over time itself!
I have happiness in my soul! etc.
HOFFMANN: However, o my fiancée,
shall I tell you a thought
that worries me despite myself?
Music inspires in me a little jealousy;
you love it too much!
ANTONIA [smiling]: See there a strange imagination!
Do I love you then because of it, or do I love you for you?
For you, you aren't going to forbid me
to sing as my father has done?
HOFFMANN: What are you saying?
ANTONIA: Yes, my father is at present imposing on me
the virtue of silence. [Eagerly] Would you like to hear me?
HOFFMANN [aside]: This is strange! Is it then . . .
ANTONIA [drawing him toward the harpsichord]:
Come here, as in olden times,
Listen, and you'll see if I've lost my voice.
HOFFMANN: How lively your eyes become,
and how your hands tremble!
ANTONIA [making him sit at the harpsichord and leaning on his shoulder]: Here! This sweet love song that we used to sing together --
HOFFMANN: This sweet love song . . .
ANTONIA: . . . that we used to sing together.
HOFFMANN: Together!
ANTONIA [she sings accompanied by HOFFMANN]:
"It's a song of love
that soars aloft
sadly or madly,
each in its turn;
it's a song of love!
The new rose
smiles at spring.
Alas! How long
will it live?"
HOFFMANN: "It's a song of love
that soars aloft
sadly or madly,
each in its turn;
it's a song of love!"

Nicolai Gedda (t), Hoffmann; Victoria de los Angeles (s), Antonia; Paris Conservatory Orchestra, André Cluytens, cond. EMI, recorded 1964

[in German] Siegfried Jerusalem (t), Hoffmann; Julia Varady (s), Antonia; Munich Radio Orchestra, Heinz Wallberg, cond. EMI, recorded 1979

[from "Hofmann!" "Antonia!"; in German] Peter Anders (t), Hoffmann; Erna Berger (s), Antonia; Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra, Arthur Rother, cond. Broadcast performance, 1946


The long-promised Bruckner Ninth post.

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