Sunday, September 28, 2014

Ghost of Sunday Classics: Who is the author of Hoffmann's misfortunes?

Her mother's portrait sings to her --
Erin Wall as Antonia, Lyric Opera of Chicago, 2011
ANTONIA: Heavens!
MIRACLE: Listen!
VOICE: Antonia!
MIRACLE: Listen!
ANTONIA: God! My mother! My mother!
VOICE: Dear child, whom I am calling
as in olden times,
it's your mother, it's she;
hear her voice!
Dear child, whom I am calling, etc.

Felicity Palmer (ms), Voice of Antonia's Mother; Jessye Norman (s), Antonia; Samuel Ramey (bs), Miracle; Staatskapelle Dresden, Jeffrey Tate, cond. Philips, recorded 1987-89

Christa Ludwig (ms), Voice of Antonia's Mother; Edita Gruberová (s), Antonia; James Morris (bs-b), Miracle; Orchestre National de France, Seiji Ozawa, cond. DG, recorded c1986

Patricia Kern (ms), Voice of Antonia's Mother; Beverly Sills (s), Antonia; Norman Treigle (bs), Miracle; London Symphony Orchestra,Julius Rudel, cond. ABC-EMI, recorded July-Aug. 1972

by Ken

As I indicated in last night's preview, here we are for one more week with Offenbach's Tales of Hoffmann.

I'm going to try to keep my prattling to a minimum. I just felt we needed a better focus on the unfortunate life situation poor Hoffmann has situated himself in. At one point he asks the students whether they would like to know who is "the author of my misfortunes," presumably having in mind Councillor Lindorf, whom he casts as the bass-baritone "villain" in his three tales -- and who is in fact busily engaged in sabotaging Hoffmann's current grand passion, for the great actress La Stella. But by the end of the opera, I think we have a better idea -- apparently better than Hoffmann himself has -- who the author of most of his misfortunes is.


In the earlier posts (there are comprehensive links at the end of the post) we've met, albeit briefly, all three of Hoffmann's "mad loves": the "artist" Olympia, the "maiden" ("jeune fille") Antonia, and the "courtesan" Giulietta. For starters this week I thought we would glimpse the climax of the misadventure with Antonia, whom I've already described as "one of the theatrical literature's great creations." Unlike the other "mad loves" -- presumably invented by Hoffmann as separate facets of La Stella (as we noted, his constant companion Nicklausse has no idea what he's talking about when he refers to these "three mistresses"), Antonia wants him as much as she wants her.

Alas, she has inherited from her late mother -- whose portrait hangs at the rear of the room in Crespel's house where the scene takes place -- along with her passion for singing, the affliction that killed her, apparently with considerable assistance from the evil "doctor" Miracle, whose grab bag of unfortunate evil habits includes walking through walls, which is especially unfortunate if, like Crespel, you want more than anything to get him and keep him out of your house.

Crespel, has been made aware that, for all of Antonia's passion for singing, if she sings again, it may kill her. Which is the situation into which the unwitting Hoffmann has walked, rekindling the old passion with Antonia. Sometimes no amount of effort can thwart evil, as we hear here, with Miracle bullying Antonia into singing, pulling out the big gun: an incarnation of the voice of her mother exhorting her to sing, with fatal results.

OFFENBACH: The Tales of Hoffmann: Act III, Scene, Miracle, "Tu ne chanteras plus?" . . . Crespel, "Mon enfant! Ma fille!" ("My child! My daughter!")
[Sorry no texts this time out; I just wasn't up to it. There are Hoffmann librettos in various places online, including here. Bear in mind that what I'm insisting on calling "Act III" may appear as anything from Act II to Act IV. Look for the Antonia act, set in Munich.]

James Morris (bs-b), Miracle; Edita Gruberová (s), Antonia; Christa Ludwig (ms), Voice of Antonia's Mother; Harald Stamm (bs), Crespel; Claudia Eder (ms), Nicklausse; Plácido Domingo (t), Hoffmann; Orchestre National de France, Seiji Ozawa, cond. DG, recorded c1986

Samuel Ramey (bs), Miracle; Jessye Norman (s), Antonia; Felicity Palmer (ms), Voice of Antonia's Mother; Boris Martinovich (bs), Crespel; Anne Sofie von Otter (ms), Nicklausse; Francisco Araiza (t), Hoffmann; Staatskapelle Dresden, Jeffrey Tate, cond. Philips, recorded 1987-89

Norman Treigle (bs), Miracle; Beverly Sills (s), Antonia; Patricia Kern (ms), Voice of Antonia's Mother; Robert Lloyd (bs), Crespel; Susanne Marsee (ms), Nicklausse; Stuart Burrows (t), Hoffmann; John Alldis Choir, London Symphony Orchestra,Julius Rudel, cond. ABC-EMI, recorded July-Aug. 1972


Now I thought we'd go back to the Prologue and rehear the portions we've already heard, but in their full context, starting with the rushing entrance of the students into Luther's tavern, next door to the theater where La Stella is performing in Don Giovanni tonight.

Things to note: Hoffmann's near-total isolation, despite the adoration of the young students (whose camaraderie and ability to enjoy their tavern nights are made so vivid by Offenbach) and the actual availability of his adored Stella -- and despite his desperate wish to love and be loved. In the original Barbier-Carré libretto, adapted from their play roping in these three tales of the great German fabulist E.T.A. Hoffmann, there is a Muse who supposedly watches over Hoffmann, and appears in the form of Nicklausse.

Maybe Offenbach could have made something workable of this if he had lived to solve the whole opera, but I'm not sure. It's an interesting-sounding idea that doesn't lead anywhere. We haven't dipped into the Epilogue because really there's not much there to pick at. After the performance of Don Giovanni, Stella appears as promised in the note that was intercepted by Councillor Lindorf in the Prologue, and finds him passed out drunk. It doesn't appear to be great consolation to Hoffmann that he always has his art.

OFFENBACH: The Tales of Hoffmann: Prologue, from the students' entrance
[Again, no texts this time out, but you can find Hoffmann librettos in various places, including here.]

Camille Maurane (b), Herrmann; André Vessières (bs), Luther; Raymond Amade (t), Nathanaël; Louis Musy (b), Councillor Lindorf; Raoul Jobin (t), Hoffmann; Fanély Revoil (ms), Nicklausse; Chorus and Orchestra of the Opéra-Comique, André Cluytens, cond. EMI, recorded 1948

Bernard Lefort (b), Herrmann; August Heimpel (bs), Luther; Aimé Doniat (t), Nathanaël; Heinz Rehfuss (bs-b), Councillor Lindorf; Léopold Simoneau (t), Hoffmann; Nata Tuescher (ms), Nicklausse; Chorus and Orchestra of the Concerts de Paris, Pierre-Michel Le Conte, cond. Phiips-Epic, recorded 1958

Herrmann, Luther, and Nathanaël -- I don't know!; Gabriel Bacquier (b), Councillor Lindorf; Sándor Kónya (t), Hoffmann; Noëmi Souza (ms), Nicklausse; Chorus and Orchestra of the Teatro Colón (Buenos Aires), Peter Maag, cond. Live performance, Aug. 3, 1970

Gérard Théruel (b), Herrmann; Jean-Marie Frémeau (bs), Luther; Benoît Boutet (t), Nathanaël; José van Dam (b), Councillor Lindorf; Roberto Alagna (t), Hoffmann; Catherine Dubosc (ms), Nicklausse; Chorus and Orchestra of the Opéra National de Lyon, Kent Nagano, cond. Erato, recorded 1994-96


"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)


And then we can clean up our workspace.

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