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Offenbach's THE TALES OF HOFFMANN: San Francisco Opera on WRTI, Oct. 19

Cory Weaver
Matthew Polenzani (left) as Hoffmann and Natalie Dessay as doomed singer Antonia.

A sensitive poet searches for love, and repeatedly finds it lies just beyond his reach in this marvelously melodic masterpiece. Singing the title role is tenor Matthew Polenzani, who was praised by The New York Times as "coming into his prime...singing with increasing ardor, richness and power."

He is joined by the always-astonishing Natalie Dessay, who gave "a precise, luminous and impeccably controlled performance" (San Francisco Chronicle) in the title role of Lucia di Lammermoor (2008), as Antonia; Hye Jung Lee, who was praised for her vocally "fierce, gleaming beauty" (San Francisco Chronicle) as Madame Mao in Nixon in China (2012), sings Olympia; in their Company debuts, Irene Roberts as Giulietta and mezzo-soprano Angela Brower, is Nicklausse, The Muse; and charismatic bass-baritone Christian Van Horn performs the villains who thwart Hoffmann's desires. Laurent Pelly (The Daughter of the Regiment, 2009) directs a new production of this richly imaginative, psychologically astute gem. Patrick Fournillier conducts. Saturday, October 19, 1 to 4:30 pm.

Music by Jacques Offenbach
Libretto by Jules Barbier and Michel Carré; Performing Edition based on the integral edition of the opera by Michael Kaye and Jean-Christophe Keck, by arrangement with Schott Music



Hoffmann: Matthew Polenzani     
The Muse/Nicklausse: Angela Brower    
Coppélius, Dapertutto, Dr. Miracle, Lindorf: Christian Van Horn     
Antonia: Natalie Dessay     
Olympia: Hye Jung Lee     
Giulietta: Irene Roberts     
Stella: Jacqueline Piccolino    
Frantz, Andrès, Cochenille, Pittichinaccio: Steven Cole     
Nathanaël: Matthew Grills     
Spalanzani: Thomas Glenn     
Crespel: James Creswell     
Hermann: Joo Won Kang     
Luther, Schlemil: Hadleigh Adams

Patrick Fournillier: conductor


In Luther’s tavern, a chorus of spirits of wine and beer is heard, while inside the adjoining opera house there is a performance of Mozart’s Don Giovanni. The Muse appears, professing her love for the poet Hoffmann. To protect him in his adventures, the Muse transforms herself into his faithful friend Nicklausse with help from the spirits. Councilor Lindorf bribes Andrès, a servant of the singer Stella, to intercept a note she has written inviting Hoffmann to meet her after the performance. Lindorf himself will keep that appointment. As offstage applause signals the end of the opera’s first act, students fill the tavern, among them Hoffman, accompanied by his friend Nicklausse. Students urge him to drink and sing, and he tells them the ballad of a dwarf named Kleinzach, then calls for the punch bowl. Noting the devilish Lindorf, he senses bad luck. When the students tease him about Stella, he begins the stories of three past loves...

The inventor Spalanzani is aided by his servant, Cochenille, in assembling a mechanical doll, Olympia. With her, he hopes to recoup the fortune he lost in the collapse of the banking house of Elias. Hoffmann declares his love for her, and Nicklausse hints that he is making a fool of himself. Coppélius, Spalanzani’s partner, sells the poet a pair of glasses that make Olympia appear human. Spalanzani and Coppélius haggle over the doll, and Spalanzani agrees to pay 500 ducats by way of a draft on the house of Elias. Guests arrive and Olympia captivates them with a charming song. Oblivious to the periodic mechanical difficulties of the doll, Hoffman is enchanted. When the guests leave for dinner, Spalanzani leaves the two alone, and Hoffmann declares his love. When he grabs her hand, she whirls out of control. Coppélius returns, bent on revenge for having been given a worthless bank draft. As the guests start to dance, Olympia is destroyed.

The musician Crespel has fled to Munich with his daughter, Antonia, hoping she will forget her love affair with Hoffmann there. She sings and becomes exhausted. Her father demands that she never sing again, since it will endanger her life, and he orders his deaf servant Frantz to allow no one into the house. Frantz tries to sing and dance. Hoffmann’s voice attracts Antonia, and they swear eternal love. Breaking her promise, she sings for Hoffmann. The sinister Dr. Miracle appears, whom Crespel considers an omen of doom because Miracle treated Crespel’s wife the day she died. The evil doctor inquires after Antonia, while Hoffmann watches. The charlatan begins to “examine” the girl, then commands her to sing—and her voice is heard. Miracle offers medicines to save her. The father, knowing this means death, throws Miracle out. Hoffmann begs her not to sing and leaves. The doctor reappears, taunting Antonia with prospects of glory as a singer and invokes the memory of her mother, a famous singer. As Miracle plays his violin, Antonia sings until she collapses and dies. Hoffmann and Nicklausse are in Venice at the palazzo of the courtesan Giulietta, who has discarded her lover Schlemil in favor of a poet. Hoffmann drinks to pleasure, and Giulietta takes her guests to the gambling tables. Nicklausse warns his friend, who declares that should he fall in love, the Devil may take his soul.

The magician Dapertutto declares he will bribe the courtesan by means of a glittering diamond. She has already obtained Schlemil’s shadow (or soul) for Dapertutto, who now insists on possessing Hoffmann’s reflection. The poet capitulates to her, and Dapertutto, Schlemil, Nicklausse, Pitichinaccio, and the chorus view the obsession of love. Schlemil, who refuses to give Hoffman the key to Giulietta’s apartment, is killed by the poet in a duel. As Nicklausse drags Hoffmann away, Dapertutto gloats in triumph.

As Hoffmann finishes his tales, the crowd goes to supper. When the students hail Stella, she finds the poet drunk and leaves on Lindorf’s arm. The Muse claims Hoffmann, who remains behind to create new works.