Origin, history and restoration of an operatic masterpiece  by Vincent Giroud and Michael Kaye


Rowman & Littlefield 2017, 565 pp
ISNB 9781442268032

Click here to order the book or directly from the publisher

Of all operas in the standard repertory, none has had a more complicated genesis and textual history than Offenbach’s Tales of Hoffmann. Based on a highly successful 1851 play inspired by the short stories by the German Romantic writer E.T.A. Hoffmann, the work occupied the last decade of Offenbach’s life. When he died in October 1880, the work was being rehearsed at the Opéra-Comique. At once cut and rearranged, the work was performed from the start in versions that ignored the composer’s final intentions. Only a few decades ago, when previously unavailable manuscripts came to light, it became possible to reconstitute the score in its real form. Vincent Giroud and Michael Kaye’s The Real 'Tales of Hoffmann' tells the full story for the first time in English. 

After discussing how the work of Hoffmann became known and influential in France, the book includes little-known sources for the opera, especially the complete Barbier and Carré play, in French and English. It describes the genesis of the opera. The annotated libretto is published in full, with the variants, for the two versions of the opera: with spoken dialogue or recitatives. Essays explain what was done to the opera after Offenbach’s death, from the 1881 Opéra-Comique production to more recent restoration attempts. There is also a survey of Les contes d’Hoffmann in performance from the 1970s to the present, and supplementary information, including discography, filmography, and videography.

The Real 'Tales of Hoffmann' is intended to appeal to anyone interested in the work, especially specialists, musicologists, die-hard fans of the work, and students of French opera  will find it of particular interest, as will opera houses, conductors, singers, directors, and dramaturgs involved in performances of the opera.

As a non-specialist in matters Offenbach I was particularly interested in the  – sadly enough incomplete - discography, videography and filmography of the work by Charlie Richards. Very welcome and interesting are Richards’s comments on the various recordings but these comments could have been (in my case should have been) far more detailed and extensive. Another serious misser is the lack of a discography of solo recordings on vinyl and shellac. This would have made this magnum opus more appealing to the general public and the record collector in particular.

The book understandably includes an annotated libretto but why they chose to include the full text of the Barbier and Carré play is beyond me as these extra 141 pages would have made the book easier to handle and less expensive as well.  A fine index is added.  

Operanostalgia, December 2017