Listen up Opera People, Tales of Hoffmann should be Olympia, Giulietta, Antonia, in THAT Order!

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.

Opera is the land of permanent nonsense decisions. You can’t expect good logic - or any logic at all. Forget it. Solve global warming instead; your chances are much better.


Thanks for the enlightenment.

Never gave much thought to the ‘plot’. Just enjoyed the music and staging. Kind of like Gilbert and Sullivan.

Will pay more attention next time.

The chronological timeline isn’t necessarily the best narrative timeline. Sometimes a story is better told when you skip ahead and show later events and then go back and tell about events that occurred “earlier”. The foreknowledge of those “future” events adds a deeper meaning to the parts of the story you are seeing now.

That said, I’ve never seen The Tales of Hoffmann.

Sigh. Poor Jacques. He tried so hard to get away from being typecast for operettas, and now, he’s “kind of like Gilbert and Sullivan.”

Well thanks for nothing. Now I’m going to always see that opera and think, but that’s not the way Two Many Cats SAYS it’s supposed to be staged.


Poor Jaques indeed. He didn’t make it. La Belle Hellene is infinitely more entertaining.

It’s difficult to identify with Hoffman. He’s not Don Juan devious or a Rigoletto type victim. Hoffman is just a doofus who can’t get it right.

I do agree that correcting the order would help. I assume the order is changed to place the Barcarolle near the end.

Maybe he’s a better writer than a lover. After all, the Muse of Poetry (disguised as Nikolaus) hangs out with him through everything.

The Barcarolle is played twice in Giulietta’s story, at the beginning and at the end. The reprise of it after Antonia’s finale brings us back to Luther’s tavern for the epilogue, where having been dumped yet again by Stella, Hoffmann surrenders entirely to the Muse of Poetry. So he presumably comes out of his drunken stupor to write these Tales.

Or maybe he just turns gay for Nikolaus. It’s hard to tell.


Is there any discussion of staging Hoffman in the correct sequence - do any such performances exist or DVD?

Discussions, I don’t know. Here is the Antonia to Giulietta version.

This Youtube version is just a soundtrack, but it is in the Giulietta to Antonia traditional version. Note it was recorded in 1964.

My favorite movie version is Michael Powell’s, which George A. Romero talks about here.

I have a VHS tape of the movie somewhere.