Les Contes d’Hoffmann
It was snowing heavily the whole day. At night time, although the snow stopped, it was icy everywhere on the street. The cold winds continuously blew, under the freezing night, the passengers were going home or going for a drink at a warm bar. At the moment, New Yorkers didn’t ask for too much, just one glass of punch can let people forget all the worries and the loneliness on this winter night.
Hoffmann, the alcoholic and writer lacking inspiration, irritated the senator Lindorf who was his rival in love for the opera prima donna Stella. The Muse, unable to bear the talented Hoffmann becoming poor and depressed because of the loss of love, turned into Hoffmann’s friend Nicklausse to allure Hoffmann with the beauty of art.
Alcohol, woman, inspiration. Aren’t these every artist’s sufferings and expectations?
Even though it was dark and freezing outside with cold winds blowing, the pub was crowded and noisy. Beer and punch, young men and scholars, artists and politicians, everyone was here to see the glamor of opera star Stella and the great writer Hoffmann.
When people saw the down and out Hoffmann, they teased him and asked him to sing a song to entertain the public. Hoffmann then sang “Légende de Kleinzach”. Kleinzach was a deformity with a hunch back and twisted limbs. However, Hoffmann made this song about this tragic character light and jocular. Hoffmann seemed to be welcoming this dwarf clown. The crowd was also singing and dancing to his song. While everyone was cheering for Kleinzach, Hoffmann’s tone suddenly changed. Hoffmann fell into his memory, and sang to everyone about his lover. Due to Hoffmann’s space out, we took a sneak peek into the beauty and attraction of his old lover. With the tease of Lindorf and the crowd, Hoffmann decided to pour out his romances to the public.
Hoffmann tore his old scar apart to the public and sang his love story out loud. Would his three love romances touch people’s hearts or just become a joke? A writer without inspiration was nothing different from a physical disability. Hoffmann knew this clearly as well. He was like the Kleinzach in his own song. In front of the drunk people at the pub, Hoffmann could even throw away his dignity, not to mention his private and valuable love memories.
Then Hoffmann brought us back to his memories. He put on the magic glasses from an unknown scientist. And we met his first lover Olympia. The perfect Olympia had perfectly fair skin, lovely brown eyes and rosy lips. The dimples of hers when she smiled were charming. Her pink gauzy dress was like a rose in spring, blossoming with youth and sweetness. This innocent Olympia sang the love song “Les oiseaux dans la charmille” for Hoffmann. Her voice was light and naughty, like the clouds in the blue sky, the winds jumping in the warm sunlight, and is the pulse of first love. Hoffmann was crazy about Olympia. He ignored the persuasion of Nicklausse, and confessed his love to Olympia. However, Olympia lost control during the ball, and shattered into pieces after the dance. Hoffmann also broke his glasses in the mess. At that moment, Hoffmann realized his lover was not human, but a mechanical doll. Olympia gave Hoffmann a huge blow, and he became hopeless in the tease and laughter of the crowd.
Everyone in love is seeing the world with Hoffmann’s magic glasses. These glasses could turn machines into humans, and dreams into reality. However, a mindless lover like this is like Olympia who had no spirits. She had a perfect look and attractive voice, but could not take any strikes. At the moment when Olympia was shattered, the glasses of Hoffmann’s also broke. He took down the glasses and took back the sense. Seeing his love break into pieces, Hoffmann could only sing his regret and sorrow out loud.
Hoffmann did not give up finding his true love. Following the song of love “Elle a fui, la tourterelle” of Antonia’s, Hoffmann came to his second lover. The beautiful and fragile Antonia, who had such an intriguing voice, cannot sing easily due to illness. Hoffmann insisted on protecting this love and would like to elope with Antonia. Nicklause reminded Hoffmann of his failed love with Olympia, and hoped to convince Hoffmann to give up on chasing for love but for eternal art. Hoffmann declined Nicklausse, and kept making the dream of love with Antonia by singing their duet “C’est une chanson d’amour”. But the devil came and bewitched Antonia. Antonia sang crazily to death until she became the cold dead body in Hoffmann’s arms.
Music, this beautiful and obsessive art. She allures humans with her beauty, and attracts admiration with her mystery. Once she comes to you, be aware, because the happiness would not last long. The enjoyable melodies give people expectations, but they always end. When the last note is played, you will understand the nice future is only a wish, and the love has already gone. The music ends and the lover leaves, all we have is the past moments in our head.
Hoffmann continued his journey for love. Under the night sky of Venice, we heard the pleasant and elegant Barcarolle “Belle nuit, ô nuit d’amour”. The song under the starry night was like the gentle river water passing through the village, the harbor and the grand palace. In the palace, Nicklausse and Giulietta sang together towards their yearning for the night, and the true love. Tonight, Hoffmann was going to have a romance with the courtesan Giulietta. Giulietta was luring. In her scarlett dress and luxury jewels, Giulietta’s every move was a move of desire. With beauty and schemes, Giulietta had already made a deal with the magician Dapertutto: Giulietta traded Hoffmann’s reflection for a diamond of Dapertutto’s. The diamond on Giulietta’s neck was a trade with the devil, and a tragedy of Hoffmann’s. Giulietta took Hoffmann’s reflection in the mirror when she kissed Hoffmann. Hoffmann lost his reflection, and fell deeply into the obsession with Giulietta. He understood he had lost in the trap of love, but he couldn’t control his desire for Giulietta. He could die of the kiss from Giulietta. Hoffmann loved Giulitta, and hated Giulietta. He let himself fall into love, but he hated this love. Giulietta then sang to Hoffmann her love for him as well, however, she didn’t want to give up the shining diamond and luxury lifestyle. Giulietta then left with her new lover.
Diamond was truly women’s best friend. It lets women trade with the devil, and betray their conscience. In love, is it Giulietta’s fault to be a gold digger, or is it Hoffmann’s mistake to be too innocent again? Hoffmann never learned a lesson.
Suddenly, the memories stopped. We came back to the pub. Looking at the crowded people, the drunk Hoffmann sadly sang about the three women he loved: Olympia, Antonia, Giulietta. Nicklausse realized these three women represented different appearances of Stella’s: Innocent, artistic, and desirable. In the end, Stella chose to leave with Lindorf. Hoffmann lost his love again. He followed the music of Kleinzach, and sang out a new poem he just created for his heartbreaking moment. Hoffmann was deeply sad and depressed, and he dropped to the ground. Then the Muse appeared. She comforted Hoffmann with her soft voice. She encouraged him to grow in these failed love stories, and find his inspirations back. Hoffmann, at last, went back to the love of the Muse.
Therefore, three loves became one woman. Three times of heartbreaking romances created one brand new poem. This opera of Offenbach’s teaches women, and encourages men. Ladies, when you have the innocence of Olympia, the artistic of Antonia, and the desirableness of Giulietta, lovers will always follow. Gentlemen, when you are abandoned by love, the loss and sadness devours you, and when you praise and curse love, don’t be depressed. Let sorrow light up the fire of creativity. Because only when you have experienced the deepest pain brought by the greatest love, can you make the most touching creations.
Offenbach was famous for his operettas, and would like to compose a formal and serious opera in his later years. He was hoping that Les Contes d’Hoffmann could prove his ability to create such a great work. However, Offenbach passed away before finishing the whole masterpiece, and Les Contes d’Hoffmann became his swan song. Offenbach must have deeply believed in true love, and was deeply hurt by love as well. He put all his expectation and loss to life, and his last thoughts and effort to art on Hoffmann.
Offenbach of his late years was like Hoffmann. He was depressed due to the incompleteness of his achievements. He was lost due to the failure of possessing happiness. The punch could warm his body, but never his heart. The love and emotion always passed by, and never stayed. The loneliness in his soul, and the coldness in his mind could only be comforted by art.
Therefore, after watching Les Contes d’Hoffmann, we comforted our loneliness in the snow, and soothed the old scar hurting again due to the cold winds. Those memories we could not tell were empathized in the songs of Hoffmann. Those countless expectations and hesitation towards the future were ended with Hoffmann and his lovers.
The applause ceased. The Met Opera went back to peace. The curtains were closed. We drank up the hot wine in our hands, and let the burning heat alleviate the pain of heart breaking. Under the grand chandeliers of the Met, we put on our coats and gloves. Following the crowd, we went into the dark and cold night again.
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