Ernst Theodor Wilhelm Hoffmann (Königsberg , January 24, 1776 – Berlin, June 25, 1822), who changed his third name to Amadeus in honour to Mozart, is one of the best-known representatives of German Romanticism, and a pioneer of the fantasy genre, with a taste for the macabre. He was also a jurist, composer, music critic, draftsman and caricaturist.
As a musician, he composed about 80 works, including several operas, among them Aurora (1811-12), after Franz von Holbein, and Undine (1814), after Baron Friedrich de la Motte Fouqué's tale, one symphony, sacred and chamber music, as well as instrumental pieces.
Bregenzs Tales of Hoffmann is different from everything you saw before. The New York Times praised the thoughtfulness and creativity of Stefan Herheims new production, devised by the director as a search for ones own self in a sparkling drag show. A shining-toned (NYT) Hoffmann is embodied by tenor Daniel Johansson in the title role. He is supported by a fantastic cast: Rachel Frenkel is positively ideal as Muse and Niklausse (Kurier), Kerstin Avemo as Olympia is endowed with brilliant, cheekily extemporized coloraturas (Neue Zürcher Zeitung), Michael Volle sings the parts of Lindorf, Coppelius, Dr. Miracle and Dappertutto, the works four villains, with warmth and intensity (NYT) and Mandy Fredrich is a finelyphrased Antonia (Kurier).
This 1972 studio recording is the ultimate Tales Of Hoffman. The recording was originally an LP on the ABC label in the Westminster Legacy issues, but digitally remastered and edited for cd by Deutsche Grammophon. Deutsche Grammophone cd labels are famous for remastering legendary and classic recordings of classical music and opera and they have outdone themselves again with this one. It features virtuoso singers at the top of their game and the orchestra is directed under the baton of the seasoned conductor Julius Rudel.
It was through a colleague of his in the civil service, Regierungsassessor Itzig (later Hitzig), that Hoffmann became acquainted with Schlegel's translations of Calderon in Warsaw in 1804. During an illness in 1807 he again read Schlegel's Spanisches Theater and in it discovered Die Scharpe und die Blume, which for him was an ideal opera subject. Hoffmann began composing the opera in Warsaw, finished it in Berlin, and in the same year, 1807, tried in vain to have it performed at the Berlin National Theater. In addition, the Leipzig music publisher Ambrosius Kuhnel refused to print Hoffmann's compositions. Liebe und E'tfersucht was accepted neither in Vienna, where Itzig established contacts for him, nor at other theaters. Despite two attempts it was also not accepted at the Bamberg Theater (1808 and 1810), where Hoffmann had moved in 1808. When the Bamberg theater director Holbein was appointed to the Wurzburg Theater in 1812, he took the manuscript of the libretto there with him (or had it sent to him there). This is probably why this manuscript found its way into the Wurzburg City Archive, while the score remained with Hoffmann and then after his death was archived in the Royal Library in Berlin (today's German State Library).
This is not quite the most controversial opera video recording of our time (that title would probably go to Valery Gergiev's 1993 Kirov production of Prokofiev's The Fiery Angel), but it is a strong contender. It has, in one package, two tendencies that give special creative tensions to opera production in our time: the musicians' imperative for fidelity to the composer's intentions, and the stage director's impulse to use the story, characters, sets, costumes, etc., as springboards for his own creative imagination. –Joe McLellan
Jacques Offenbach was the composer of many operettas that satirized life in 19th century France, many of which are still popular. "Tales of Hoffman" was his last work and his only "serious" opera, and Offenbach died before completing it. This has lead to several "final" versions which is of interest primarily to musicologists.
What should interest a potential buyer of the DVD is the quality of the performance and of the disc. Happily, both are excellent.
"Tales" is a hugely melodic work, with one good melody following another. It is also a work where singing actors have the opportunity to breathe life into what can be rather wooden characters. In the case of this performance, this is exactly what happens.