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Tales of Hoffmann

Donald Macleod explores the life and music of the maestro of the Cancan and much more besides, Jacques Offenbach. Today, the opera he left unfinished on his death.

Donald Macleod explores the life and music of the maestro of the Cancan and much more besides, Jacques Offenbach. Today, the opera he left unfinished on his death.

From the late 1850s Offenbach suffered from gout. At first he mistook it for rheumatism, returning year after year to the Rhineland spa town of Bad Ems for completely ineffective water cures. By 1877, when he started work on The Tales of Hoffmann, his condition had become seriously debilitating. Increasingly he suspected that the opera would be his swansong, so it became enormously important to him. Above all, he didn’t just want to be remembered as the composer of frothy operettas; Hoffmann would elevate and secure his reputation in the eyes of posterity. For that reason, he took far more trouble over it than over anything else he had ever written. The composer who had once churned out a fully scored one-act operetta in eight days for a bet was now inching forward painstakingly with his new score, making sure that everything was just so. By the time it went into rehearsal, he had completed most of the vocal score and begun the orchestration. All he wanted was to survive to see the opening night. Sadly, that was not to be. He died – of heart failure brought on by severe gout – in October 1880, four months before his musical last will and testament finally made it to the stage, albeit in a severely compromised form. Even if Offenbach had lived to complete The Tales of Hoffmann, he would undoubtedly have fine-tuned it – perhaps even substantially revised it – after the first run of performances, as was his habit. So there can be no definitive version of the opera. But even in the various provisional forms in which it has been presented over the years, Hoffmann’s distinctive fusion of emotional depth and musical brilliance have ensured it a place at the heart of the operatic canon. Had its composer survived, who knows what might have come next.

Les contes d’Hoffmann (Prologue, extract)
Choeur de la Radio Suisse Romande
Choeur Pro Arte de Lausanne
Choeur Du Brassus
L’Orchestre de la Suisse Romande
Richard Bonynge, conductor

Les contes d’Hoffmann (Prologue, extract: “Allons, allons mes enfants! Préparez cette sale” – “Eh! Luther! Ma grosse tonne” – “Il était une fois à la cour d’Eisenach” – “Peuh! Cette bière est détestable!” – “Et par où votre diablerie”)
Roland Jacques, bass (Luther)
Pedro di Proenza, tenor (Nathanaël)
Placido Domingo, tenor (Hoffmann)
Huguette Tourangeau, mezzo soprano (Nicklausse)
Gabriel Bacquier, baritone (Lindorf)
Paul Guigue (Hermann)
Choeur de la Radio Suisse Romande
Choeur Pro Arte de Lausanne
Choeur Du Brassus
L’Orchestre de la Suisse Romande
Richard Bonynge, conductor

Les contes d’Hoffmann (Act 1, extract: ‘Les oiseaux dans la charmille’)
Joan Sutherland, soprano (Olympia)
Jacques Charon (Spalanzani)
L’Orchestre de la Suisse Romande
Richard Bonynge, conductor

Les contes d’Hoffmann (Act 2, extract: “Belle nuit, ô nuit d’amour”)
Huguette Tourangeau, mezzo soprano (Nicklausse)
Joan Sutherland, soprano (Giulietta)
Placido Domingo, tenor (Hoffmann)
André Neury, bass (Schlemil)
Choeur de la Radio Suisse Romande
Choeur Pro Arte de Lausanne
Choeur Du Brassus
L’Orchestre de la Suisse Romande
Richard Bonynge, conductor

Les contes d’Hoffmann (Act 3, extract: “Tu ne chanteras plus … sais-tu quel sacrifice” – “Mon enfant! Ma fille! Antonia!”)
Gabriel Bacquier, baritone (Dr Miracle)
Joan Sutherland, soprano (Antonia)
Margarita Lilowa, mezzo soprano (The Voice)
Paul Plishka, baritone (Crespel)
Placido Domingo, tenor (Hoffmann)
L’Orchestre de la Suisse Romande
Richard Bonynge, conductor

Les contes d’Hoffmann (Epilogue, extract: “Adieu! Je ne veux pas tesuivre” – “Jusqu’au matin remplis, remplis, mon verre!”)
Placido Domingo, tenor (Hoffmann)
Huguette Tourangeau, mezzo soprano (Niklausse, La Muse)
Gabriel Bacquier, baritone (Lindorf)
Joan Sutherland, soprano (Stella)
Choeur de la Radio Suisse Romande
Choeur Pro Arte de Lausanne
Choeur Du Brassus
L’Orchestre de la Suisse Romande
Richard Bonynge, conductor

Produced by Chris Barstow for BBC Wales.

59 minutes

Last on

Fri 21 Jun 2019 12:00

Music Played

  • Jacques Offenbach

    Les contes d'Hoffmann: Prologue (extract)

    Performer: Choeur De La Radio Suisse Romande. Performer: Choeur Pro Arte de Lausanne. Performer: Choeur du Brassus. Performer: L'orchestre de la Suisse Romande. Conductor: Richard Bonynge. Singer: Roland Jacques. Singer: Pedro di Proenza. Singer: Huguette Tourangeau. Singer: Gabriel Bacquier. Singer: Paul Guigue.
    • DECCA 417 363-2.
    • DECCA 417 363-2.
    • 1.
  • Jacques Offenbach

    Les contes d'Hoffmann: Prologue (extract)

    Performer: Choeur De La Radio Suisse Romande. Performer: Choeur Pro Arte de Lausanne. Performer: Choeur du Brassus. Performer: L'orchestre de la Suisse Romande. Singer: Roland Jacques. Singer: Pedro di Proenza. Singer: Huguette Tourangeau. Singer: Gabriel Bacquier. Singer: Paul Guigue. Conductor: Richard Bonynge.
    • DECCA 417 363-2.
    • DECCA 417 363-2.
    • 1.
  • Jacques Offenbach

    Les contes d'Hoffmann: Act 1 (extract)

    Singer: Joan Sutherland. Singer: Jacques Charon. Orchestra: L'orchestre de la Suisse Romande. Conductor: Richard Bonynge.
    • DECCA 417 363-2.
    • DECCA 417 363-2.
    • 13.
  • Jacques Offenbach

    Les contes d'Hoffmann: Act 2 (extract)

    Performer: Choeur De La Radio Suisse Romande. Performer: Choeur Pro Arte de Lausanne. Performer: Choeur du Brassus. Performer: L'orchestre de la Suisse Romande. Singer: Huguette Tourangeau. Singer: Gabriel Bacquier. Singer: Joan Sutherland. Conductor: Richard Bonynge.
    • DECCA 417 363-2.
    • DECCA 417 363-2.
    • 15.
  • Jacques Offenbach

    Les contes d'Hoffmann: Act 3 (extract)

    Performer: L'orchestre de la Suisse Romande. Singer: Gabriel Bacquier. Singer: Joan Sutherland. Singer: Margarita Lilova. Singer: Paul Plishka. Singer: Plácido Domingo. Conductor: Richard Bonynge.
    • DECCA 417 363-2.
    • DECCA 417 363-2.
    • 9.
  • Jacques Offenbach

    Les contes d'Hoffmann: Epilogue (extract)

    Performer: Choeur De La Radio Suisse Romande. Performer: Choeur Pro Arte de Lausanne. Performer: Choeur du Brassus. Performer: L'orchestre de la Suisse Romande. Singer: Plácido Domingo. Singer: Huguette Tourangeau. Singer: Joan Sutherland. Singer: André Neury. Conductor: Richard Bonynge.
    • DECCA 417 363-2.
    • DECCA 417 363-2.
    • 17.

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