I’ve noticed a distressing trend in the staging of my favorite opera,The Tales of Hoffmann lately. The opera is an anthology of three stories, and for years the traditional order was first, Olympia, second Giulietta, and thirdly, Antonia, with a prologue and epilogue bookending them.
But now, the trend is to present it this way: Olympia, Antonia, Giulietta.
NO! NO NO NO NO NO! Bad Opera People!! Bad!! NO!!
Of course I know the reason for this change is, originally, that was how the opera was done, with Giulietta’s story last. The change was made because the powerfully dramatic Antonia’s story with its riveting trio between Antonia, Dr. Miracle, and the spectre of Antonia’s mother seemed more suited as a finale piece.
Opera snobs will tell you that this revival of the original order makes a more cogent timeline. Olympia portrays Hoffmann as a young man, so innocent about love that he falls for a wind up doll. Antonia was Hoffman’s chance at true mature love, that is torn away from him. Hoffmann was an older and cynical man by the time he meets up with the courtesan Giulietta, and he loses his soul in yet a third heartbreak, and is ready for death. So it all happens in a chronological order, and makes more sense dramatically.
Yeah, that’s why we go to the opera, for stories that make sense.
Listen folks, Antonia’s story, is a far deeper piece than the other two. The last trio, done well, leaves me spent and breathless, and ready to wrap things up. Sitting through Giulietta’s story afterward, as lyrically beautiful as it is with its famous Barcarolle, and its Diamond Song, still feels like an anticlimax to me after Antonia’s heartbreaking choice between love and life itself, and her talented artistry. The whole thing is a metaphor for how much Offenbach himself sacrificed to create his grand opera masterpiece while he was dying. It’s soul shattering, and it belongs at the end, so the opera can build up to the climax of it.
You guys are making me climax too soon, and that’s always bad.
Okay, so originally, the opera was the other way around. Shouldn’t the work be presented as the composer originally envisioned it?
Well then, why in these upended productions does Giulietta go sailing off with Dappertutto at the end of her sequence as usual, instead of getting accidentally poisoned, as she did in the original work? I don’t see you guys changing back to that little plot twist.
Does anyone here want to agree or argue? I hope so, either way.