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234th Season

Jacques Offenbach "Les contes d`Hoffmann" (opera fantastique in five acts)

Maria Danilova, Costume Designer
Jules Barbier, Libretto author
Maestro Valery Gergiev, Musical Director
Mikhail Tatarnikov, Musical Director
Marina Mishuk, Musical Preparation
Andrei Petrenko, Principal Chorus Master
Zinovy Margolin, Set Designer
Vasily Barkhatov, Stage Director
Performed in French (with Russian subtitles)
Premiere of this production: 26 Dec 2011

The performance has 2 intermissions
Running time: 3 hours 30 minutes

This opera, which has a legendary reputation as well as existing in a large number of versions of the score, is returning to the Mariinsky Theatre eleven years since the last production. The new production is being put together by a team that has received theatre prizes in St Petersburg and throughout Russia on numerous occasions for its previous works at the Mariinsky Theatre. 

Vasily Barkhatov believes that “Les contes is the drama of a man who conjures up a dream, gives it a woman’s name and becomes lost in painful reveries. Hoffmann becomes transformed from an impressionable artist into the most ordinary of men – not free, it is true, to cross the border between his own imagination and reality. The protagonist, experiencing the drama of love and grasping the fact that he is no Jimmy Hendrix, so to speak, becomes a mid-ranking manager and begins to lose his hair.”

The role of Hoffmann is being rehearsed by young tenor Sergei Semishkur, whose repertoire includes such French music as Hector Berlioz’ Les Troyens and Benvenuto Cellini, has already worked with Barkhatov on productions of Leoš Janacek’s Jenufa, Rodion Shchedrin’s Dead Souls and the aforementioned Benvenuto Cellini.

The female roles are being rehearsed by Marina Aleshonkova, Kira Loginova, Olga Pudova and Larisa Yudina as Olympia, Zhanna Dombrovskaya, Lyudmila Dudinova, Gelena Gaskarova, Anastasia Kalagina, Olga Trifonova and Oxana Shilova as Antonia and Zhanna Afanasieva, Irina Mataeva, Tatiana Pavlovskaya, Yekaterina Solovyova and Viktoria Yastrebova as Giulietta. 

The lead bass role is being rehearsed by Ildar Abdrazakov and the renowned Sergei Aleksashkin, who sang in the premiere of Marta Domingo’s production of Les contes in 2000. In the new production at the Mariinsky Theatre, as envisioned by the composer himself, the wicked Dr Miracle, Dapertutto, Coppelius and the experience-rich Lindorf – in Barkhatov’s version alter egos of the protagonist – will all be performed by one singer. 

Important facts:

• The new production is using the fullest version to date of the score of the opera Les contes d’Hoffmann produced for publication by Michel Carré and Jean-Christophe Keck (Offenbach died before he could complete the orchestration, which is why several versions of the opera exist). This version sees the revival of the original order of the acts (Olympia –Antonia –Giulietta) and dialogues take the place of recitatives and music more than audiences are generally accustomed to.

• The libretto of Les contes d’Hoffmann was written using motifs from three of Hoffmann’s tales – Olympia was taken from the novella Der Sandmann, the sickly Antonia from the play Rath Krespel (part of the series Die Serapionsbrüder) and the story of Giulietta the courtesan and the evil sorcerer Dapertutto from the tale Das Verlorene Spiegelbild. 

In Vasily Barkhatov and Zinovy Margolin’s stage version, the plot of the opera is interwoven with plotlines from François Truffaut’s La Femme d’à côté, Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining and Ron Howard’s A Beautiful Mind.

• Les contes d’Hoffmann was first staged at the Mariinsky Theatre in 1899 in Russian and was directed by Osip Palechek with the dances being staged by Lev Ivanov, co-choreographer of Swan Lake. Marta Domingo staged the last production of Les contes d’Hoffmann at the theatre in 2000 using Michael Kaye’s version of the opera.

• Also working on the premiere are Mikhail Tatarnikov (conductor), Alexander Sivaev (lighting designer), Marina Mishuk (musical preparation), Andrei Petrenko (principal chorus master), Larisa Gabitova, Oxana Klevtsova, Tatiana Sinelnikova, Irina Trutko, Dmitry Yefimov and Marina Yevseyeva (accompanists), Pavel Petrenko and Leonid Teplyakov (chorus masters), Kristina Larina (assistant stage director) and Xenia Klimenko and Maria Levina (French language coaches).

• Among those rehearsing the premiere are Viktor Aleshkov and Sergei Semishkur as Hoffmann, a poet, Marina Aleshonkova, Kira Loginova, Olga Pudova and Larisa Yudina as Olympia, a doll, Zhanna Dombrovskaya, Lyudmila Dudinova, Gelena Gaskarova, Anastasia Kalagina, Olga Trifonova and Oxana Shilova as Antonia, Crespel’s daughter, Zhanna Afanasieva, Irina Mataeva, Tatiana Pavlovskaya, Yekaterina Solovyova and Viktoria Yastrebova as Giulietta, a courtesan, Maria Maksakova, Yulia Matochkina and Yekaterina Sergeyeva as Nicklausse, Hoffmann’s friend, Elena Vitman and Larisa Gogolevskaya as the Voice of Antonia’s Mother and Ildar Abdrazakov, Sergei Aleksashkin, Ilya Bannik and Andrei Serov as Lindorf, a city councillor, Coppélius, an optician, Dr Miracle and Dapertutto, a sorcerer.

Hoffmann is returning home following a wild night out. He is in love with a beautiful girl he does not know who lives in the house across the road and whom he calls Stella.
In Hoffmann’s feverish state two alter egos come to life: the experience-rich, mature and rational Lindorf and the young poet Nicklausse. Lindorf and Nicklausse try various means to tease the amorous Hoffmann. They make fun of him, pretending that bills for the apartment are the love letters that Hoffmann dreams of receiving from the mysterious stranger.
Students assemble in Hoffmann’s room – in their eyes he is a literary giant and a great authority. At the height of the friendly meeting Hoffmann begins to relate the story of his love, as it were in order to comprehend who the stranger, his beloved, actually is. Hoffmann draws his guests into his tale of three love stories.

First Love. Olympia
With Coppelius’ assistance, Spalanzani the inventor has created Olympia, an amazingly lifelike illusion. Having barely had a glimpse of Olympia, Hoffmann immediately falls in love with her. Wishing to become acquainted with the girl, he presents himself as a man of science. Coppelius appears, having come to Spalanzani for the money owed him for the work he did. In order to get rid of CoppeliusSpalanzani gives him a check from a bank that has collapsed. Coppelius sells Hoffmann a pair of special glasses. When he wears them he finds Olympia even more beautiful. Spalanzani demonstrates his enchanting invention to a group of friends. The guests listen to Olympia’s song. Hoffmann is bewitched by her voice and he declares his love for her. But the deception is revealed and Hoffmann understands that he has been in love with an illusion.

True Love. Antonia
The young Antonia, who dreams of a career on the stage, has inherited a wonderful voice from her mother who was a renowned singer; but in addition to the voice she has also inherited a terrible disease that resulted in her mother’s death. Singing could also have tragic consequences for Antonia. Crespel, the girl’s father, tries to keep his daughter away from Dr Miracle who caused her mother’s death. Hoffmann chances to hear Crespel talking with Miracle and discovers that Antonia is ill. He makes her promise not to sing and abandon any dreams of the stage in order to dedicate herself to her family. But as soon as Hoffmann departs Miracle appears. He tempts Antonia with the glory of being a great singer and the adulation that comes with acclaim and success. Antonia imagines her mother is calling her on-stage.

Deceptive Love. Giulietta
Christmas Eve. Hoffmann’s friends have arranged a masked ball and are disguised as characters from Hoffmann’s tales. The plot about the capricious courtesan Giulietta, her lover Shlemil and the wicked Dapertutto begins as a performance in a private theatre. “Dapertutto” orders “Giulietta” to ensnare Hoffmann and steal his reflection. Obediently listening to “Dapertutto’s” demands, “Giulietta” enchants Hoffmann and obtains what she came for. Reality and fantasy are mixed together in Hoffman’s perturbed mind. He kills “Shlemil” in order to obtain the key to “Giulietta’s” bedroom and makes haste after the courtesan. “Giulietta”, however, flees with a new lover.

Hoffmann is sitting in his room alone. He stares at the window opposite where the unknown girl lived. In view of the empty rooms and a sign it is clear that she no longer resides there. Was she, in fact, ever there at all? Or did he imagine everything? A poetic fantasy? Did Hoffmann merely dream it all?

Mariinsky Theatre:
1 Theatre Square
St. Petersburg
Mariinsky-2 (New Theatre):
34 Dekabristov Street
St. Petersburg
Mariinsky Concert Hall:
20 Pisareva street
St. Petersburg

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