Friday, September 19, 2014

Ghost of Sunday Classics Preview: "The name of the first was Olympia"

Party chez Monsieur Spalanzani! A real doll is Olympia, the first of Hoffmann's "mad loves" (Matthew Polenzani and Anna Christy at Lyric Opera of Chicago, 2011).

by Ken

We heard the ineffable line "The name of the first was Olympia" last week -- five times over, actually -- as the poet Hoffmann prepares to give his crowd of adoring students in Luther's tavern his account of the first of his promised three "mad loves." Now we hear it again, in three languages, showing how hard it is to make the line work quite as poetically in any language but French, where "Olympia," being accented -- like most all French words -- on the final syllable, can stand at the top of the line's upward rise.

We're also hearing the line with a bit more in context this week, including the hauntingly resonant chorus of the students, which we can now hear is the tune that echoes after Hoffmann's ethereal announcement of the name "Olympia," and also including the Entr'acte that follows immediately -- or rather two of them. Cambreling and Beecham use a quiet mediation on the haunting "Écoutons! Il est doux de boire" theme, while Wallberg uses the more traditional first statement of the grand minuet that will be heard later as entrance music for the guests at Monsieur Spalanzani's grande soirée.

STUDENTS: Let's listen! It's pleasant to drink
during the telling of a mad story . . .
STUDENTS and NICKLAUSSE: . . . watching the bright cloud
that a pipe throws into the air!
HOFFMANN [sitting on the corner of a table]: I'll begin.
STUDENTS: Silence!
In an hour, I hope, they'll be dead drunk.
HOFFMANN: The name of the first was Olympia.
[The curtain falls while HOFFMANN speaks to all the attentive STUDENTS.]


Ann Murray (ms), Nicklausse; Neil Shicoff (t), Hoffmann; José van Dam (bs-b), Councilor Lindorf; Chorus and Symphony Orchestra of the Opéra National du Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie (Brussels), Sylvain Cambreling, cond. EMI, recorded June-July 1988

[in German] Ilse Gramatzki (ms), Nicklausse; Siegfried Jerusalem (t), Hoffmann; Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (b), Councilor Lindorf; Bavarian Radio Chorus, Munich Radio Orchestra, Heinz Wallberg, cond. EMI, recorded 1979

[in English] Monica Sinclair (ms), Nicklausse; Robert Rounseville (t), Hoffmann; [Lindorf's line omitted]; Sadler's Wells Chorus, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Sir Thomas Beecham, cond. Decca, recorded 1947-51 (soundtrack of the Powell-Pressburger film)


"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)
The Entr'acte takes us to the home of Olympia, or rather of an eccentric character named Spalanzani. We learn that the ever-romantically-suggestible Hoffmann has has speedily fallen totally, madly, hopelessly in love with this radiant beauty. His acerbic but ever-faithful sidekick Nicklausse suggests that he might want to take time to get to know her better; in point of fact, our hopelessly infatuated poet has never so much as spoken to his beloved.

Hoffmann and Nicklausse are guests at a party thrown by Monsieur Spalanzani, at which the divine Olympia -- the "artist" among Hoffmann's three mad loves -- is naturally providing the entertainment. At this point I think we can turn the proceedings over to Monsieur Spalanzani (and his hard-working servant Cochenille).

OFFENBACH, The Tales of Hoffmann, Act I, Spalanzani, "Mesdames et messieurs" ("Ladies and gentlemen") . . . Olympia's song
SPALANZANI: Ladies and gentlemen,
proud of your bravos,
and especially impatient to win more of them,
my daughter, obedient to your least caprices,
is going to -- if it please you . . .
NICKLAUSSE [aside]: . . . go on to other feats.
SPALANZANI: . . . sing for you a grand air,
accompanying her voice, rare talent,
the harpsichord, or the guitar,
or the harp -- at your choice.
COCHENILLE [backstage, in falsetto]: The harp!
BASS VOICE [responding to COCHENILLE's voice, in the wings]: The harp!
SPALANZANI: Very well! Cochenille,
go quickly to fetch my daughter's harp.
HOFFMANN: I'm going to hear her! O joy!
NICKLAUSSE: O mad passion!
SPALANZANI [to OLYMPIA]: Master your emotion, my child.
[He touches her shoulder.]
OLYMPIA: Yes! Yes!
COCHENILLE [bringing the harp and a flute]: Th-there!
SPALANZANI: Gentlemen, attention!
COCHENILLE: A-at-tention!
THE GUESTS: Attention!

Song, Olympia
[OLYMPIA sings while accompanying herself on the harp; COCHENILLE seconds her on the flute.]
OLYMPIA [singing in mechanical syllables]:
The birds in the arbor,
in the heavens the orb of day,
everything speaks to the maiden
of love!
Ah! Everything speaks of love!
There is the lovely song,
the song of Olympia!
[Her voice weakens. COCHENILLE touches OLYMPIA's shoulder to rewind the mechanism. In the Sutherland-Bonynge version, SPALANZANI asks COCHENILLE what's happening and urges him to fix it.]
There is the lovely song,
the song of Olympia!
THE GUESTS: It's the song of Olympia!

OLYMPIA: Everything that sings resounds
and sighs, in its turn
moves her heart, which trembles
with love!
There is the lovely song,
the song of Olympia!
[Her voice weakens again. Same deal with COCHENILLE. Sound of a spring.]
There is the lovely song,
the song of Olympia!
THE GUESTS: It's the song of Olympia!

Nico Castel (t), Spalanzani; Susanne Marsee (ms), Nicklausse; Bernard Dickerson (t), Cochenille; Stuart Burrows (t), Hoffmann; Beverly Sills (s), Olympia; John Alldis Choir, London Symphony Orchestra, Julius Rudel, cond. Westminster-EMI, recorded July-Aug. 1972

Jacques Charon (t), Spalanzani; Huguette Tourangeau (ms), Nicklausse; Hugues Cuénod (t), Cochenille; Plácido Domingo (t), Hoffmann; Joan Sutherland (s), Olympia; Suisse Romande Radio Chorus, Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, Richard Bonynge, cond. Decca, recorded 1971

Paul Franke (t), Spalanzani; Mildred Miller (ms), Nicklausse; Alessio de Paolis (t), Cochenille; Richard Tucker (t), Hoffmann; Roberta Peters (s), Olympia; Metropolitan Opera Chorus and Orchestra, Pierre Monteux, cond. Live performance, Dec. 3, 1955

[in German] Fritz Soot (t), Spalanzani; Anneliese Müller (ms), Nicklausse; Gerhard Witting (t), Cochenille; Peter Anders (t), Hoffmann; Rita Streich (s), Olympia; Berlin Radio Chorus and Symphony Orchestra, Arthur Rother, cond. Broadcast performance, 1946


We're going hear relevant musical samples of Hoffmann madly in love -- not just with Olympia, but with his other "mad loves," the courtesan Giulietta and the maiden Antonia.

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