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Concerts

Fall 2012

LA DAMNATION DE FAUST (1846)
Hector Berlioz (1803-1869)

Chant de la fête de Pâques (Easter Chorus)
The Chorus

Ronde des paysans (Peasant's Round-Dance))
Robert MacNeil and the Chorus

FAUST (1859)
Charles Gounod (1818-1893)

“Me voici!”
Mr. MacNeil and Dean Elzinga

“Vin ou bière”
The Chorus

The Jewel Song
Rebecca Sjöwall

MEFISTOFELE (1875)
Arrigo Boito (1842-1918)

"Ave Signor"
Mr. Elzinga

The Witches’ Sabbath: “Ah! su! riddiamo, riddiamo”
The Chorus

"L'altra notte in fondo al mare"
Ms. Sjöwall

Epilogue (The Death of Faust)
Mr. MacNeil, Mr. Elzinga and the Chorus

INTERMISSION

FAUST
Charles Gounod

“Ainsi que la brise légère”
The Chorus

The Church Scene
Ms. Sjöwall, Mr. Elzinga and Mr Elzinga

“Gloire immortelle de nos aïeux”
The Men'sChorus

The Prison Scene and Apotheosis of Marguerite
Ms. Sjöwall, Mr. MacNeil, Mr. Elzinga, and the Chorus

LES CONTES D’HOFFMANN (1881)
Jacques Offenbach (1819-1880)

Glou! glou! glou!
The Chorus

"Belle nuit"
Ms. Sjöwall and the Chorus

“Hélas! mon coeur”
Ms. Sjöwall, Mr. MacNeil, Mr. Elzinga, Judy Tran Gallego, Joseph Michels, Babatunde Akinboboye and the Chorus

Finale (“Des cendres de ton coeur”)
Ms. Sjöwall, Ms. Tran Gallego, Mr. MacNeil, Mr. Elzinga, Mr. Michels, Mauricio A. Palma II, Mr. Akinboboye and the Chorus

Rebecca Sjöwall

Soprano

Robert MacNeil

Tenor

Dean Elzinga

Bass-Baritone

DEVILISH OPERA INTRODUCTION

The devil is a timeless character in western literature (as well as in many other cultures), seemingly having existed for as long as stories have been told. From the snake in the garden tempting Adam and Eve with the knowledge of good and evil, to Dante’s Inferno and Milton’s Paradise Lost, thence to Mark Twain’s portrayal of the devil as “the first consultant” in the Diaries of Adam and Eve, and on to G.B. Shaw’s languid and cynical demon in Don Juan in Hell, the devil has remained a fascinating character, usually overshadowing any other protagonist. (As the humorist Jean Kerr put it, “The snake has all the lines.”) In the twentieth century we had musical versions as diverse as Stravinsky’s The Soldier’s Tale and the devil tempting a middle-aged man to sell his soul to provide his beloved but ill-fated Washington Senators with a long ball hitter (Damn Yankees). The variety of enticements which the devil offers in order to tempt his innumerable prey have their roots in the zeitgeist of each tale’s times.

The enduring legend of Faust, in which a learned man sells his soul to the devil, was rooted in German folktales well before the 16th century. The legend culminated in the plays Dr. Faustus by Christopher Marlowe in 1588 and Goethe’s monumental two part play in verse, Faust, over two hundred years later, as well as a twentieth century novel by Thomas Mann, Doktor Faustus. Goethe’s play inspired musical works by Schubert, Schumann, and Mahler, as well as operas such as Berlioz’ La damnation de Faust, Busoni’s Doktor Faust, and the most famous of all, Gounod’s Faust. Boito also drew on Goethe’s work when he wrote his own libretto for Mefistofele and set it in a prologue, four acts, and an epilogue, adhering quite faithfully to Goethe’s play in comparison to the other versions.

In these musical adaptations, the details lie not so much in the devil as in the variety of the longings of the different Fausts that the devil appeals to. Goethe’s Faust is interested only in infinite knowledge, shunning wealth and power, but in our trio of operatic adaptations he is lured by a number of temptations, subtly influenced by the milieus and philosophies of their composers and librettists.

Part I of Goethe’s Faust, published in 1808, is the story of an aged scholar who longs to comprehend all experience, and is willing to sell his soul to the devil (in the form of the character Mephistopheles) in order to satisfy his yearning. Mephistopheles wagers with God that he can win Faust’s soul, and he transforms Faust into a lordly youth and lures him with the young maiden Gretchen (Marguerite in the operatic versions). Faust seduces and then abandons her, leaving her to bear his illegitimate child. Shamed for her lapse, she panics and drowns the child. The ending of Part I is set in a prison where Gretchen awaits execution for her crime. The guilt-ridden Faust attempts to rescue her with Mephistopheles’ aid, but she refuses the demon’s help and surrenders herself to God, miraculously earning eternal redemption. The love story of Faust and Gretchen is not in the original folk tales and appears to be entirely Goethe’s creation – and the one which appealed most to his musical adaptors.

Part II, on which Goethe labored for years and which was only published in final form in 1832, the year of his death, is much longer and certainly less focused on plot than on Goethe’s views of major philosophical, political, and scientific issues, representing the first full flowering of romanticism in Germany in the 19th Century. Faust ends as an old man again, but one who attempts to found an ideal society on land reclaimed from the ocean. Although his plan fails and Mephistopheles thinks he has won his wager, a chorus of angels thwarts him by saying that Faust has been saved because at least he strived to do something good, as they bear the dead Faust from the gates of hell to those of heaven.

LA DAMNATION DE FAUST

Hector Berlioz moved to Paris as a young medical student, but soon abandoned his medical studies to devote himself to music and composition. His prolific output includes his first great success, Symphonie fantastique in 1830, as well as a Requiem, the operas Benvenuto Cellini and Les troyens, and choral and dramatic works including Roméo et Juliette and La damnation de Faust. Known as much during his life for his conducting and music criticism as for composing, Berlioz struggled for acceptance of his revolutionary music, whose innovative brilliance is now recognized worldwide. Berlioz had a lifelong fascination with Goethe’s Faust, writing several symphonic pieces inspired by it as well as a youthful 1828 setting of nine songs and ballads from Goethe’s work, which he disavowed later in life. A trip to Germany 15 years later culminated in the first version of La damnation de Faust in 1846, whose initial critical and popular failure deeply wounded the composer. La damnation de Faust has become more widely performed as an opera since an adaptation for the stage in 1893 in Monaco, but was originally written as a concert piece. Berlioz himself described it as a dramatic legend, “an opera without décor or costumes.”

Berlioz’ version draws upon only Part I of Goethe’s work and is limited largely to the doomed romance between Faust and Marguerite, ending with her redemption and acceptance into heaven. However, like its source, it is almost cinematic in its wide-ranging series of settings and supernatural effects. Méphistophélès promises Faust the fulfillment of all his wishes, but notably the final contract to surrender his soul comes not at the beginning of the story, but as the price Faust must agree to in order to rescue Marguerite from prison –  a rescue that she rejects (as in Goethe’s original) rather than associate with the devil.

In the second scene of Berlioz’ version, the aging scholar is in his study, lamenting the emptiness of his life and preparing to end it by taking poison. He is forestalled by the distant sound of villagers singing an Easter hymn (“Chant de la fête de Pâques). The singers proclaim that Christ has risen, quitting His tomb and arriving in eternal glory in heaven. The faithful disciples languish here below, and they lament that He has left them in sorrow at the mercy of the burning arrows of misfortune. They believe His eternal word, however, that they shall follow Him one day to the celestial home to which His voice summons them.

In the first scene, the aged Faust is alone in the fields at sunrise on a spring day on the plains of Hungary. His pleasure at his solitude in nature, far from the strife of the multitudes, is interrupted by the sound of peasants who have gathered for a round-dance (Ronde de paysans). They sing of the shepherds leaving their flocks, dressed in ribbons and wild flowers, dancing and leaping like madmen under the lime trees. Faust grudges them their pleasure when he feels so old and wretched. The village dance becomes more heated, flying by like lightning, as one by one the ring of dancers fall down in a row. The men mock the women’s false modesty as they snatch them from the circle . . . and everything takes its course in the excitement of the music and dance.

FAUST

Charles Gounod was born in Paris in 1818, the son of a painter who died when Gounod was four. His mother taught music to support them and was his first teacher. He entered the Paris Conservatoire in 1836 and won the prestigious Prix de Rome in 1839. His four years in Rome inspired in him a life-long love of sacred music and established a love for religious life as well. His first notable success was the Messe Sollennelle in 1851, when he also wrote the first of his twelve operas. The premiere of Faust in 1859 brought his greatest acclaim, and it remains his most famous and frequently performed work, along with Roméo et Juliette, and his setting of Ave Maria based on a Bach prelude. He also composed chamber music, oratorios and symphonies throughout his long career and in later life devoted himself mostly to liturgical music. He even had a devoted fan in Queen Victoria, who not only sent a wreath to his funeral, but was said to have had the music from Faust played to her on her deathbed, smiling as they played her favorite selections.

During his studies in Rome, Gounod discovered Goethe’s Faust, and as early as 1838 considered turning it into an opera. On his return to Paris, a production of Michel Carré’s play Faust and Marguerite revived his interest and in 1858 he learned that Jules Barbier had adapted it as a libretto for an opera, which Gounod eagerly accepted. Although Barbier was essentially the sole librettist, his adherence to Carré’s original led to them being given joint credit for the libretto. Both the play and the opera are loosely based on Part I of Goethe’s original.

Goethe’s Faust is interested in transcendent knowledge, but in Gounod he contracts with Méphistophélès in return for youth, which will bring him everything. In exchange for the promise of Faust’s soul, Méphistophélès agrees to fulfill all his desires. He introduces him to the chaste and humble Marguerite, with whom Faust is immediately enamored. Moved as much by her purity as her beauty, Faust tries to resist his passion, but Méphistophélès easily manipulates them into consummating their love. However, Faust abandons her in his quest for pleasure, and the hapless Marguerite finds herself pregnant with his child and the object of her neighbors’ scorn. Marguerite seeks solace in church, but Méphistophélès convinces her that she is doomed to eternal damnation. Faust is diverted to other pleasures by Méphistophélès, but has a vision of Marguerite in prison, where she has been condemned for the killing of their child. Faust tries to rescue her, but she refuses. In spite of Méphistophélès’ thundering at her that she is damned, a chorus of angels assures us that she has been saved as her soul rises to heaven at the climax of the opera.

In the first scene of Act I, the aged Faust is alone in his study, bemoaning the loss of his youth and faith. Preparing to poison himself, he curses human pleasures, science, prayer and faith, and last of all, patience. He calls on Satan to come to him. Méphistophélès appears suddenly (“Me voici!”) and asks why Faust is surprised.Does his appearance, with a sword at his side, a feather in his hat, and a rich cloak, not make him appear a real nobleman? Faust denies that he is afraid, but when Méphistophélès asks if he doubts his powers, Faust answers, “Perhaps.” Faust orders him away, but Méphistophélès says he should not have summoned him from so far only to put him out. Faust asks what Méphistophélès can do for him, and is told: Everything – what is it Faust wants? Gold? Glory? Power? Faust exclaims that he wants a treasure that contains all of those – he wants youth! The caresses of young mistresses, the desires, the intoxication, the delights of fiery youth. Méphistophélès agrees to gratify his caprice, and Faust wonders what he must give in return. Almost nothing, he is told – Méphistophélès will be his servant here on earth, but Faust will be his down below. The demon produces a parchment for Faust to sign, and coaxes him with a sudden vision of Marguerite at her spinning wheel. Faust is wonderstruck and immediately signs the deed. Méphistophélès offers him the cup which had held the poison and says that it no longer contains death, but life. Draining the potion, Faust is immediately changed into a young and elegant lord. The vision of Marguerite vanishes and Faust asks if he will see her again. Méphistophélès promises that he will, today, as the two depart singing of the pleasures that await.

The second scene takes place in the town marketplace at which Faust and his new companion will shortly arrive. A lively crowd of students, soldiers, middle-aged burghers, young women, and matrons gather to celebrate a holiday not long before the soldiers are to march off to war. The students extol the virtues of wine and beer (Vin ou bière) and hope their glasses stay full. The soldiers say that girls or fortresses, it’s all the same – old towns or young mistresses are a game for them! They will force them to surrender and pay a ransom. The stolid burghers are more interested in talk of war and battles as they sit by the river and empty their glasses as the boats pass. The young ladies eye the daring young men and decide they shouldn’t be too severe – they’ll slow down a little as they pass. The students return their bold gazes and advise each other to be on guard to hold onto their hearts. The matrons are incensed that the young men are running after the saucy girls – the matrons are just as attractive as the girls, after all.

Faust is again enchanted by Marguerite after seeing her at the fair, but she modestly refuses his offer to escort her home. Faust and Méphistophélès follow, but before Faust can approach her, Siebel, a village youth who is in love with her, lays a bouquet of flowers at her door. Not to be outdone by such ardent simplicity, Méphistophélès returns with a rich casket of stunning jewels. He and Faust hide themselves as Marguerite comes to her door. As she sits at her spinning wheel, she muses about the handsome lord who approached her. She suddenly sees Siebel’s bouquet, then spies the casket. She is unable to resist opening it, and can’t tell if it’s a delightful dream or if she is awake. She has never seen such riches (The Jewel Song). If only she could see how she looks in those lovely earrings. Ah! here is a mirror in the case – how can she resist? To suddenly see herself so beautiful! “Is it you, Marguerite?” she asks. No, it can’t be – it is no longer her face, but that of a princess to whom everyone bows as she passes. Oh, if only he were here to see her like this! He would find her as beautiful as any young lady. She will complete the metamorphosis by trying on the bracelet and the necklace. Lord! The bracelet is like a hand that has been laid on her arm! She is delighted at her beauty and simply can’t believe it. If only he were there to see her!

MEFISTOFELE

Arrigo Boito was a noted poet, critic and novelist as well as a leading member of the Italian avant garde and the companion of Eleonora Duse. Although trained as a composer, he is perhaps best known as a librettist, notably for Verdi’s Otello and Falstaff and Ponchielli’s La Gioconda. Mefistofele was Boito’s first opera (the only one performed in his lifetime) with the distinction of being the first opera performed at La Scala for which the libretto was written by the composer. His second opera, Nerone, was premiered at La Scala in 1924, six years after his death. Aside from these, he composed little else, although he apparently completed but destroyed another opera, Ero and Leandro. In spite of the brilliance of his libretti for Verdi, we have good reason to lament that he wrote no other operas aside from the two mentioned above, based on the genius displayed in Mefistofele. The opera was premiered unsuccessfully at La Scala in 1868 (when Boito was only 26); its premiere aroused riots and duels over its supposed “Wagnerism” and perceived anti-religious viewpoint, and was closed by the police after two performances. However, Boito condensed and extensively rewrote the opera (six hours in length at its premiere), including transforming Faust from a baritone to a tenor. The revision met great success upon its premiere in Bologna in 1875.

Unlike the other operas based on Goethe’s Faust, which draw almost exclusively on Goethe’s Part 1, Boito’s libretto uses both Parts 1 and 2 as the basis for his story, and adheres more closely to the philosophical and spiritual viewpoints of the Goethe play. Boito’s work is episodic and far more fragmented than the more conventional ill-fated love story presented by Gounod, yet adheres much more closely to the intent of Goethe’s original. Faust is again an aged scholar, but he does not summon the devil. Mefistofele appears to him unbidden to pursue his wager with God, and declares that he is the “Spirit that denies.” The bargain Faust strikes with Mefistofele is quite different: If at any point Mefistofele can present Faust with such a perfect moment that Faust cries, “Stay, you are perfect!” and wishes the moment never to end, then Faust will surrender his soul. In the process, Faust will find love and abandon it, and once again an old man, mourn his past life but never find the perfect moment. Faust appeals to heaven to save him from Mefistofele, and he dies to a triumphant song of the celestial choir, as Mefistofele loses his wager with heaven.

In the Prologue, choirs of angels exalt God, the lord of supreme love. Mefistofele appears in heaven and sardonically echoes their rhapsodic chorus. Greeting God (“Ave Signor”), he derisively begs pardon if his slang is unsuited to paradise, and if his face doesn’t shine as gracefully as the angels’. He mocks the foolishness and arrogance of humans who believe in the call of Reason, saying they’ve fallen so low that he doesn’t have the heart to tempt them to evil. Asked if he knows Faust, Mefistofele calls him the most bizarre madman he knows, admitting he serves God in his own curious way, but with an unquenchable lust for knowledge that makes him miserable. Mefistofele resolves to snare Faust’s soul, and asks if God wants to wager on his success. Receiving assent to embark on his rude joke, Mefistofele gloats that he will triumph over the King of Heaven once Faust has tasted the fruit of vice. Mefistofele muses how pleasing it is to see God occasionally – it’s a beautiful thing for God and the Devil to converse in such a civilized way.

Following Faust’s seduction of Marguerite, Mefistofele transports him to the highest summit of the witches’ hill to observe the orgies of the Witches’ Sabbath as they pay tribute to their master Mefistofele. The witches and warlocks dance wildly around them as they cavort on the ancient splinters of the doomed world. They urge Faust to join them in their dance. (“Ah! su! riddiamo, riddiamo.”) The dreadful night of the Sabbath resounds with their infernal reel as they dance themselves into a demonic frenzy.

Abandoned by Faust, Marguerite is accused of drowning her child by him and also suspected of poisoning her mother with a sleeping potion that Faust provided so the mother would not disrupt their rendezvous. Imprisoned and starting to lose hold of her senses, she is alone in her cell, wandering and singing to herself. She mourns that her child was drowned the other night in the depths of the sea (L’alta notte in fondo al mare”), and now to drive her mad, people say she did it herself. The air is cold and the cell is dark, but she will let her soul stray like a sparrow in the wood, flying away. She begs for pity. Now her mother also lies dead and to add to her horror, they say that Marguerite poisoned her.

Epilogue (The Death of Faust) Again an old man, Faust is back in his laboratory. As he dwells on his memories, Mefistofele hovers, gloating about Faust’s approaching death. Faust muses that he has explored everything and Mefistofele wonders that Faust never found the fleeting moment that he sought. Faust recalls that he has tasted every mortal mystery, from the love of a maiden to that of his ideal, Helen of Troy. But the real was sorrowful and the ideal was a dream. However, a supreme dream still delights his soul, to rule a peaceful land and give life to its inhabitants. He wishes this sweet vision could be his last. Mefistofele is alarmed at this heavenly dream and braces himself for the battle with heaven. As Faust begins to hear the song of heaven, Mefistofele summons a vision of beautiful sirens to arouse him, but Faust is transfixed by the Bible in front of him, finally realizing that this is the beautiful thing he has sought. Mefistofele vainly tries to divert him as the chorus of angels proclaims God’s glory and Faust begins to pray to be taken from this mocking demon. As Faust cries out that this is the moment he has sought, he falls dead. The angels strew roses on Faust’s body and Mefistofele bitterly realizes that he has no power against the strength of heaven. The angels proclaim that Faust’s spirit is rising to heaven as Mefistofele admits that the Lord has triumphed over him as the angels hail God’s glory.

FAUST

As the market festival ends, the crowd gathers for the final waltz. Just as the light breeze stirs the dust in the furrows into a vortex, (“Ainsi que la brise légère”), so does the waltz carry them along. They will make the country resound with the brightness of their songs. The young men and women flirt with each other, challenging each other to join in the dance. Waltz forever! they cry, as they spin around faster and faster.

Marguerite, betrayed and abandoned by Faust, goes to pray (The Church Scene). She begs God to permit His humble servant to kneel before Him. Méphistophélès, invisible to her, says that she can pray no more, and summons the spirits of evil to terrify her. An invisible chorus of demons calls her name, and she fears she will die. She asks God for mercy – is it already the hour of retribution? Méphistophélès tells her to remember days past when, sheltered under angels’ wings, she came to church and sang the Lord’s praises. Now she hears the clamor of hell calling her to eternal remorse and anguish in everlasting night. Marguerite cries out again to God – whose voice does she hear? What dark veil descends on her? She hears a chorus of priests sing of the last day and is even more terrified. Méphistophélès says that God won’t forgive her – there will be no dawn for her. The priests’ song chokes her – she feels bound by a ring of iron. Méphistophélès tells her that the nights of love and days of ecstasy are gone – she is cursed and hell is her fate. Once more she begs for a spark of hope and asks God to accept her prayer, but Méphistophélès thunders that she is damned to hell as she collapses.

In the scene following Marguerite’s terrifying encounter with the devil, the soldiers who marched off to war in Act I have returned. They praise the immortal glory of their ancestors (“Gloire immortelle de nos aïeux”), those conquering soldiers who guided their steps and inflame their hearts. For their mother country they have confronted fate and with hardened hearts faced death. Her holy voice has cried out, “Forward, soldiers!” With sword in hand they rushed into battle. Now they rush back to their waiting hearths having won the peace. No more sighing! Their country holds out its arms, and love celebrates them. More than one heart shudders at the memory of their battles, but their immortal glory hurries them on.

The Prison Scene and Marguerite’s Apotheosis In the final scene, Faust and Méphistophélès return from their unholy revels to save Marguerite from execution. Faust dismisses Méphistophélès, who says that they are preparing the scaffolding and Faust must quickly persuade Marguerite to come with them. He gives Faust the keys to her cell, saying that only a human hand can release her. Gazing at the sleeping Marguerite, Faust’s heart is filled with dread. She is the source of regret and eternal remorse, this sweet creature thrown into prison like a vile criminal. Despair robbed her of her reason, and she killed her poor child. He calls her name, and Marguerite recognizes the voice of her beloved. His call revives her heart. Amidst the peals of laughter of the demons who surround her, she recognizes him! She is free – he has come, and she loves him! Her fetters, even death, no longer frighten her. She is safe in his heart. Faust also proclaims his love and tries to draw her away, but she gently resists, her mind wandering. She thinks they are on the street where they first met, where his hand almost touched hers. “Will you permit me, my lovely young lady, to offer you my arm and escort you? No, sir, I am neither a lady nor beautiful, and I really have no need for your hand.” Faust begs her to leave, but she is now in the charming garden of myrtle and roses which he entered every evening. Méphistophélès reappears to alert them to hurry. Marguerite recognizes that he is the devil, staring at them with his fiery eye. She tells Faust to drive him away. As Méphistophélès rails at them, she cries out to God to protect her, then implores Him and the pure, radiant angels to carry her soul to heaven. She abandons herself to the just and good Lord. Faust entreats her to go, and she recoils, asking why his hands are red with blood. Saying that he fills her with horror, she falls dead. Méphistophélès exults, “She is judged!”, but the angelic choir belies him. They say she is saved through the resurrection of Christ and that His disciples receive peace and joy.

LES CONTES D'HOFFMANN (The Tales of Hoffmann)

Jacques Offenbach was famed in his lifetime for his light operas, bringing the form of what we now call operetta to the peak of its popularity and style. Founding his own theater in 1855, he combined social and political satire while sometimes parodying grand opera. Described by Rossini as the “Mozart of the Champs-Elysées”, Offenbach wrote almost 100 light operas, of which Orpheus in the Underworld, La belle Hélène, La vie parisienne, The Grand Duchess of Gerolstein and La Périchole remain popular 150 years later. (He was so driven to compose that even his carriage was equipped with a writing desk, inkwell and candles.) Following financial disaster at his theater after the Franco-Prussian War in 1870-71 and the Second Empire’s collapse, he went on tour in the U.S. to recoup his losses.

On his return to Europe, he dedicated himself to composing his most enduring masterpiece. He did not live, however, to see the success of Les Contes d’Hoffmann, a “serious opera” on which he had justly placed so much hope for posterity. Having famously said that he would die with a melody at the end of his pen, Offenbach had in fact just completed Hoffmann’s piano score and was at work on the orchestration when he died, only four months before the Paris premiere in October, 1880. The orchestration and final version were prepared by Ernest Guiraud and the premiere was everything Offenbach could have hoped. Achieving over 100 performances in Paris alone in its first year, it was followed by a worldwide recognition which has never faded. In recent years, musicologists have discovered some of the original manuscript and have fashioned versions that adhere more closely to Offenbach’s original conception.

Using a libretto by Jules Barbier (also the librettist of Faust) and his brother Pierre, Hoffmann is based on the “memoirs” of E.T.A. Hoffmann, a German writer, composer and painter best known for mysterious stories featuring supernatural characters and devices, including the tale that became The Nutcracker. Mixing fantasy and realism, the three acts with epilogue and prologue tell of four of Hoffmann’s love affairs, which he recounts to a group of students in a Nuremberg tavern. Although there is no actual devil character, Hoffmann’s relentless “evil genius” is very close to one. (In fact, the name Satan derives from a Hebrew word for “the opposer.”) In his various guises as Lindorf, Coppélius, Dr. Miracle, and Dappertutto, Hoffmann’s adversary seems to exist only to thwart the poet, manipulating him into doomed love affairs, and able to perform black magic (among other things, stealing his reflection, akin to stealing his soul) in order to achieve his malicious ends.

In the Prologue, the curtain rises on an empty tavern, inhabited only by the Spirits of Beer and Wine. They celebrate themselves (“Glou! glou! glou!”) as the friends of mankind, who chase away languor and worry.

One of Hoffmann’s tales is set in Venice at the courtesan Giulietta’s palace overlooking the Grand Canal. Giulietta and Hoffmann’s friend Niklausse join in the famous Barcarolle. They sing of the lovely night, the night of love (“Belle nuit”) and ask the night to smile upon them and bestow its kisses, as time flies and carries away their tender thoughts. The night is sweeter than the day.

In the scene which ends this act, Hoffmann despairs of his love for Giulietta. Alas, his heart has again gone astray (“Hélas mon coeur”). He curses the love that consumes him, but cannot calm his reason. He hates her and adores her! The demonic Dappertutto mocks Hoffmann for being in love in vain again, and taunts him that the beautiful courtesan has sold her kisses to all of them. Giulietta laments that while she adores Hoffmann, she can’t resist Dappertutto’s spell and the diamond ring with which he has bribed her to steal Hoffmann’s reflection. Nicklausse knows that he burns with love again, and fears his heart will break. Giulietta’s guests, including a betrayed former lover and her current paramour, alternately deride Hoffmann and commiserate with him. The guests pity the lovesick poet and observe that Giulietta captures hearts only to break them. Warning Hoffmann that whoever adores her is cursed and will die from her kiss, they urge him to calm his heart, ending with a despairing “alas.”

Following his third and final story of failed love, Hoffmann is back in the tavern, dead drunk. The woman whom he hoped to be his fourth love, the actress Stella, enters after her performance, but he is too drunk to notice her presence. Hoffmann’s nemesis, this time in the person of Lindorf, escorts Stella away. In the Finale, Hoffmann’s Muse reclaims him as her own. From the ashes of his heart (“Des cendres de ton coeur”), his genius will be rekindled and serenity will smile on his sorrows. His Muse will soothe his blessed suffering. Hoffmann regains consciousness and hears the Muse, Stella and Lindorf, invisible to him, proclaim that while he has been ennobled by love, even greater is his growth as a result of his tears.

Notes by Tony Arn. Click on opera title to see notes.