E. T. A. Hoffmann produced tales full of comical, witty and sometimes disconcerting imagination. Into the cosy world of the German bourgeoisie he placed demons, sorceresses and changelings. Sometimes these encounters bring happiness, sometimes ruination. It is also often unclear whether the events are real or merely in the heads of the characters. More than any other writer, Hoffmann focused on the question of how we perceive the world. His work was more popular in France than it was in his homeland. In 1851 Jules Barbier and Michel Carré made the idiosyncratic writer the hero of his own adventures in their drama Les contes d’Hoffmann. Jacques Offenbach was inspired by the play to create his last large-scale theatrical production.
With his friend Nicklausse and a few students, Hoffmann is waiting in the Lutter & Wegner tavern for the woman he loves, the singer Stella, who is at that moment putting in a brilliant performance as Donna Anna in the theatre next door. To pass the time he tells the stories of his ill-fated amorous adventures with Olympia, Antonia and Giulietta. He was passionately in love with all three, and lost all three under peculiar circumstances. Again and again it appears that his happiness has been wrecked by an adversary who is pursuing him in various guises. Even now Hoffmann recognises his nemesis in one of the listeners, Councillor Lindorf. The villain is now after Stella. When Hoffmann finishes his tales, Lindorf really does leave with the singer. Is this pursuer a man or a devil? And Hoffmann’s faithful friend Nicklausse, is he a man, a woman, a helpful muse or a creature of the devil? At the end Nicklausse, as a muse, promises the lonely Hoffmann great fame as a writer, but is that an adequate substitute for love?
Jacques Offenbach died shortly after the premiere of Les contes d’Hoffmann. Consequently, only a considerably abridged version of the work was performed, much of which no longer bore the composer’s stamp. But not so very long ago important documents were discovered that mean the majority of the work can now be reconstructed as Offenbach intended. The Theater an der Wien presents the recently reconstructed original version of Les contes d’Hoffmann in Vienna for the first time.