Offenbach's The Tales of Hoffmann in New Critical Edition by Michael Kaye and Jean-Christophe Keck

Jacques Offenbach
Les contes d’Hoffmann
(The Tales of Hoffmann)
Opera in 5 Acts
Edition by Michael Kaye and Jean-Christophe Keck
Libretto by Jules Paul Barbier, after the play by Jules Paul Barbier and Michel Carré, and based on three short stories by E.T.A. Hoffmann
German translation by Josef Heinzelmann
Duration: 170'

Instrumentation
2(pic) · 2 · 2 · 2 - 4 · 2 · 3 · 0 – 2perc – 2hp (2.ad lib.) – str

Cast of Characters

Hoffmann · Tenor

Olympia, Antonia, Giulietta, Stella · Soprano

La Muse, Nicklausse · Mezzo-soprano

Lindorf, Coppélius, Le docteur Miracle, Le capitaine Dapertutto · Bass-baritone

La Voix de la Tombe · Mezzo-soprano

Spalanzani · Tenor

Crespel · Bass

Peter Schlemil · Tenor

Andrès, Cochenille, Frantz, Pitichinaccio · Tenor

Maître Luther · Bass

Le Capitaine des Sbires · Bass

Nathanaël · Tenor

Wolfram · Tenor

Hermann · Bass

Wilhelm · Bass


Hoffmann in the Press

The world’s leading Offenbach experts have collaborated on the new Michael Kaye and Jean-Christophe Keck co-edition of Les contes d’Hoffmann, establishing the most authentic text for Offenbach’s posthumous masterpiece. Prior to the publication of the co-edition, Michael Kaye’s Hoffmann Publication Project, which reunited the contents of the Hoffmann manuscripts preserved in public and private collections in the United States and Europe, was highly acclaimed by the international press. A sampling of recent comments from the press follows:

“Will the brand new Kaye edition be performed everywhere now? That is to be expected. After all, the faults of the old Oeser edition have long been apparent. It was no accident that representatives from all the big opera houses showed up in Hamburg to examine [the real finale scene of the Giulietta Act] novelty closely. Their general managers should receive favorable reports.”
Berliner Morgenpost
01/26/1999

“Authentic, stripped of extraneous material, and dramatically rounded, this production of the composer’s reconstructed original version is convincing... The highly dramatic finale of the Giulietta act...restores the balance with respect to the Olympia and Antonia acts.”
Frankfurter Neue Presse
01/26/1999

“[For Hoffmann, the final scene of the Giulietta Act] alternates excitingly between triumph, deepest desperation, cold scorn, and liberating outbursts. Composers who have been able to peer so deeply into the soul in musically convincing ways are few and far between. The beauty of this psychological masterpiece is something that future productions of Hoffmann should probably not do without.”
Süddeutsche Zeitung
01/26/1999

Plácido Domingo championed Michael Kaye’s earliest Hoffmann studies. Kaye comments “I shall always be grateful to Plácido for all he has done to further my edition, especially for having performed the title role in the première of the dialogue version of the edition at the Los Angeles Opera.” On that occasion NBC’s Today Show telecast the following remarks from Mr. Domingo:

“Experts say the new-found music brings us closer to Offenbach’s intentions. Michael Kaye has finally put the missing pieces into place and reconstructed the new Tales of Hoffmann.... The music of the Barcarole takes on new significance in the duel scene, as the characters now sing rather than speak their lines.”

For Plácido Domingo, it was an opportunity to redefine one of his favorite roles:

“I think the version is very theatrical. It is a great one. We lose some things that were not by Offenbach, put in by other composers or impresarios because Offenbach died before the premiere was done; for me it works wonderfully. I believe that Michael Kaye has done a wonderful research. Actually, I always like to work from scratch on a production and find something that is beautiful and new, so I am very enthusiastic about this.... I think the public really loves the version and I am all for it.”
Plácido Domingo on The Today Show - NBC TV

Peter Hemmings, former General Director, Los Angeles Opera: “The Tales of Hoffmann is one of those pieces which is much done, especially in this country, and has been done in many peculiar versions over the years because nobody knew what Offenbach really meant. Now I think what Michael Kaye has done is to discover what Offenbach meant. And I think that makes the piece stronger for the audience even if they don’t always know why. The strength of any piece is in the composer’s ideas if they can be rediscovered. The problem with Offenbach is that nobody thought they could rediscover them and Michael has done it.”
Peter Hemmings on The Today Show - NBC TV

Richard Dyer, The Boston Globe: “Defects of the Oeser edition even more clear.” “Michael Kaye’s edition of The Tales of Hoffmann made the defects of the Oeser edition even more clear; it was a useful stopgap, but there is little reason to turn to it now. Kaye’s edition brings us as close as anyone can come today to what Offenbach intended.”

Anthony Tommasini, The New York Times: “In a sense, Mr. Kaye’s greatest achievement is that for the most part you do not notice his work as the opera unfolds with an enhanced musical and dramatic continuity, which seems natural but is the result of a painstaking and scholarly cut and paste job.... Offenbach would undoubtedly approve of the exercise of such creative imagination.”

Dennis Stevens, The Musical Times: “Mr. Kaye has combined excellent scholarship with a keen sense of musical dramaturgy to produce a greatly enhanced opera which now, for a change, makes an undeniably clear impression.... For the first time in my life, the plot appeared to make sense.... I cannot refrain from hoping that this new version will enjoy general and widespread acceptance.”

Andrew Porter, The New Yorker: “Anyone who wants to stage Hoffmann should know all the surviving music that Offenbach wrote for it, not just what Guiraud, Bloch, and Oeser decided to make of it. This Kaye provides. As an option for those wedded to the old edition, he also has made Guiraud’s recitatives compatible with the recovered Offenbach material.... There is new music for the multiple heroine: a Giulietta chanson running up to high D or E-flat; a song for Stella in the second tavern scene; a moving strain for Olympia - Antonia - Giulietta - Stella during the apotheosis, as she relinquishes Hoffmann to the Muse but reminds him that she will play a part in the poems he is destined to write.”

Heidi Waleson, The Wall Street Journal: “The expanded Giulietta act, with a spectacular new seduction song for Giulietta, now makes more sense. Hoffmann becomes so debased that he not only falls in love with the appalling courtesan, but murders both of her lovers.”

Joseph McLellan, The Washington Post: “Radically New Edition” … “Theatrically Powerful” … “This is a musically appealing, dramatically effective Hoffmann and, more importantly, one that Offenbach would have recognized.”

Richard Ginell, Musical America: “Cherishable new pages of music.” … “Worth shouting about.” … “There have been a lot of ‘new editions’ of Hoffmann over the years, but this one--prepared by musicologist Michael Kaye after authenticating over 350 previously unknown pages of Offenbach manuscripts--is worth shouting about.... This edition does a tremendous service by clarifying and unifying the opera, as well as by including some cherishable new pages of music... There is a new coloratura aria for Giulietta, redefining that role in musical terms. Act V is tremendously improved.... One cannot go back to the old Hoffmann after seeing and hearing this startling new edition.”

Leighton Kerner, The Village Voice: “True and astonishing theater... new plot twists” … “A fresh chapter in Offenbach history.”

Alan Rich, Los Angeles Herald Examiner: “A Century’s Worth of Editorial Wrongdoings Now Righted.” “Full of Theatrical Masterstrokes.” “Mark it down as a triumph of the mind and the spirit.” “The new scholarly additions aren’t merely niggly little matters of a measure changed here and there. They are big numbers, and in all cases they define aspects of the plot that, if you’ve ever taken the trouble to think about, don’t make much sense in the traditional Choudens edition.... The Venetian act is greatly transformed and strengthened by the restoration here of a long final scene; it carries the action forward, after a duel with Schlemil to a startling, ironic ending.”

Los Angeles Daily News: “Kaye’s edition clarifies, intensifies, redefines and transforms Hoffmann into a more unified and ultimately more powerful work.”

David Patrick Stearns, USA Today: “Tales more powerful in the re-telling.” “Kaye’s edition has the most credibility.” “The opera’s archlike form has never been clearer.”

Süddeutsche Zeitung: “As sparkling as the champagne in Luther’s cellar.”

Les contes d’Hoffmann, The Washington Opera, September 8, 2001:

“Over the past 20 years, the world’s understanding of this opera has undergone a huge change, and all to the better. Hundreds of new pages of material have emerged, including a libretto that demonstrates the original plan for the opera; corrupt performing versions prepared after Offenbach’s death (he died before the show opened) have happily been superseded.  A new edition, prepared by the musicologist Michael Kaye, has restored the original order of the work’s five acts, and, perhaps most important, restored the original, darker, more violent, version of what is known as the “Giulietta” act. Offenbach’s opera has emerged as a more psychologically astute, and narratively intelligible work.”
Philip Kennicott
The Washington Post, September 10, 2001

“The Washington Opera’s new production of Les Contes d’Hoffmann supposedly used the recent Michael Kaye edition of the Offenbach score, which restored a significant amount of previously lost material. However, its producer, Marta Domingo, opted for mix and match between old and new versions. She chose to leave the Giulietta act in its pre-Kaye, truncated form and place it in its traditional spot before the Antonia act. This was a pity, as the restored version, with its expanded emphasis on cynical cruelty and murder, makes much better dramatic sense and, when placed as the climatic episode, pulls the opera together. The Olympia episode is comic, the Antonia one tragic, and the Giulietta one is evil— and Hoffmann is complicit in its evil.”
Heidi Waleson
The Wall Street Journal, October 4, 2001

“[For his premiere production of Les contes d’Hoffmann at Berlin’s Deutsche Oper, the new Intendant Udo Zimmermann] chose the so-called Kaye Version, that spectacular, as yet unpublished but at last authentic version of Offenbach’s operatic torso, first shown in Hamburg three years ago, with the Giulietta finale augmented by 144 measures or four minutes by the American musicologist Michael Kaye.”
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, January 2002

Kent Nagano, who conducted and recorded Hoffmann in productions at the Opéra de Lyon for stage and television, comments on Michael Kaye’s edition.  Transcribed from a video prepared by Disques Erato in May 1996:

“Tales of Hoffmann” has its place among the most beloved of the repertoire of grand opera. I’ve always had a problem with the piece because the story was so dawgone confusing. Even as a student I remember just pouring over the score and trying to figure out what went where, and who, and what was happening. It was quite confusing, which makes this recording even more interesting in this new version by Michael Kaye.

Finally, certain parts that have always been missing from the standard versions that we hear have been restored, and with that restoration comes much more lucidity in the story telling - in the sense of the story telling. So one can really follow from the beginning to the end a continuous train of thought. So, hopefully with this recording it will bring another dimension of enjoyment to the opera, something that has always been fondly regarded as a tuneful work, but now can be regarded as a coherent dramatic work as well.

Thanks to my collaboration with so many French musicians here in France and due to Michael Kaye’s version, I’ve been able to obtain a perspective of the various fashions and modes of performance practice pertaining to this work throughout the second half of the 20th century, which has been really fascinating.

[For my preparation] I had to study the history of the piece at the same time and how it was put together and how the various discoveries of the missing parts were made. Then what came into focus for me was a much different conception of what the Offenbach tradition is, or what it means to me today than what it meant to me say five years ago.

[Performing the opera with recitatives] makes for a different feeling, a different dramatic flow when something doesn’t constantly stop and then slip into a different medium and then restart again. One has the feeling that there is a fluidity and time seems to go much faster; even though in this version it has much more music and in fact the length of the work is quite a bit longer than one normally hears, because of the fluidity of this version one gets the feeling that, in fact, time is passing very quickly. [The Giulietta act is completely transformed.] I had to really forget what I had thought about my preconceptions of the character of Giulietta. Even the physical image I had of Giulietta -- all of that just went out the window—I had to completely rethink it, as I’m sure that people will when they hear this particular version. It’s a much more life-loving, more energetic, multidimensional Giulietta than one ordinarily comes to see. We wanted to use the most definitive source that we have available to us: the Michael Kaye edition. Upon using that version we were all very delighted with how the orchestration felt. It was much more transparent, much more light, much more orchestral color. Built into it was a much more natural feeling of flexibility and with flexibility, we felt came the ability to be much more expressive at the same time. So when eventually the stage production went on to evolve as a recording project, as a lot of our works do here in Lyon... we thought about it quite carefully if we wanted to go to a much more traditional form of the “Tales of Hoffmann”, and finally we decided, that no, it’s been interesting and we’d like to challenge ourselves and go ahead and remain faithful to this new critical edition.

Today we finished the recording and I think everyone is very happy that we did. More than that, excited about the new sound that we discovered in the score and we are very excited to share it with everyone else. [...] People were learning new music as we were going along. Roles were suddenly twice as hard as they were to sing before because the version really requires certain kinds of virtuosity that just normally aren’t required. What was really evident was the real engagement and commitment from every single cast member, which was I think what made it so exciting for us all. You heard the cheers from the orchestra at the end. It was a real challenge for all of us and I think something really exciting to participate.”

There is no longer any doubt what Offenbach composed from the beginning of the opera to the end of the Giulietta Act. The Epilogue is filled with a variety of authentic possibilities to conclude the opera. Now stage directors, designers, conductors, and singers can realize and fulfill their own artistic ideas for Offenbach’s masterpiece in the best way possible with this edition, which incorporates all of the new sources for the opera found in the last years. Performing versions with spoken dialogue or a grand opera version with newly edited recitatives composed by Ernest Guiraud are possible. If desired, the famous sextet with chorus and Dapertutto’s aria “Scintille diamant,” long considered as part of the opera even though they were not composed by Offenbach, may be interpolated in a different context.


(16.02.2007)




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