Home   News   Article

Subscribe Now

‘A serious, symbolist, death and devil-haunted work’ has come Newbury's way





Kennet Opera are returning to Shaw House Great Hall from February 2 to 4, with Offenbach's Tales of Hoffmann.

Kennet Opera
Kennet Opera

It's probably the first time this "serious, symbolist, death- and devil-haunted work" has come Newbury's way. If that sounds forbidding the opera also has many fantastic, ludicrous and just plain funny moments -- as comes through in the rehearsal photos from Brimpton village hall last week.

After a string of comedy triumphs, Jacques Offenbach's last work was this strange opera fantastique from 1881, based on the writings of the German romantic poet ETA Hoffmann and telling the story of his three failures in love.

Kennet Opera
Kennet Opera

The opera group will be singing it in English, with piano accompaniment, at 7pm on February 2 and 3 and at 2.30 pm on February 4..

Music director Jim Petts gives @newburytoday a brief overview in Hoffmann’s tales ‘a serious, symbolist, death- and devil-haunted work’.

Kennet Opera
Kennet Opera

THERE are a number of worthy and still-popular operas by composers who wrote only one (the best known is perhaps Beethoven’s Fidelio), or at least only one that survives in the repertory.. What makes Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann unique is that it’s the one enduring serious opera composed by a man who earned his reputation, and his lasting place in social and musical history, by writing 105 decidedly non serious works, usually identified by diminutive labels like “operetta,” “opéra comique,” or “opéra bouffe.”

Arthur Sullivan, who learned a great deal from Offenbach, tried to make a similar leap into the ranks of serious composers with his romantic opera Ivanhoe , which he wrote after 11 successful comic opera collaborations with WS Gilbert. But Ivanhoe has disappeared, whereas Offenbach’s serious, symbolist, death-and devil-haunted work is still regularly revived, with all-star casts and lavish new productions, at major opera houses in Europe and the US. Or almost successfully.

ETA Hoffman
ETA Hoffman

Even favourable critics still tend to describe The Tales of Hoffmann as Offenbach’s “problematic,” “potential,” or “unresolved” masterpiece. Scholars, conductors, and producers (that’s me folks) keep rewriting its text and score, rearranging its scenes, and making new cuts and additions, which don’t always make the opera clearer. (Offenbach died before he finished it, so the game is fair.) No two commentators can even agree on what the opera means, which is rarely the case with Offenbach’s lighter-hearted hits. In 1851, Jules Barbier and Michel Carré (who also reduced Goethe’s Faust and Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet to texts for Gounod) wrote a play entitled Les Contes d’Hoffmann , which opened at the Théâtre de l’Odéon in Paris on March 21.

Kennet Opera
Kennet Opera

For this play, the two authors very loosely combined bits of three fantastic stories by the German writer E. T. A. Hoffmann (1776–1822), plus references to four or five others. They then concocted the ingenious stage conceit that these stories were episodes from Hoffmann’s own past, which he was relating to his tavern companions on a single evening shortly before his death. Offenbach’s opera is based on this play, as is Barbier’s libretto.

So what have we done to make it work in Shaw House? We have gone back to a fair approximation of the original spoken dialogue, provided parts for everybody (we hope it is not too confusing), and trimmed the music to the bare essentials to make sure we get in all the well-known melodies, but clear out some repeats and give the poor tenor an occasional rest …

Visit https://booking.westberks.gov.uk/heritage_events.html to book.



This site uses cookies. By continuing to browse the site you are agreeing to our use of cookies - Learn More