[Met Performance] CID:88120
New production
Les Contes d'Hoffmann {14} Metropolitan Opera House: 11/13/1924.


Metropolitan Opera House
November 13, 1924
New production


Hoffmann................Miguel Fleta
Olympia.................Nina Morgana
Giulietta...............Lucrezia Bori
Antonia.................Lucrezia Bori
Lindorf.................James Wolfe
Coppélius...............Giuseppe De Luca
Dappertutto.............Giuseppe De Luca
Dr. Miracle.............Giuseppe De Luca
Nicklausse..............Kathleen Howard
Andrès..................Angelo Badà
Cochenille..............Angelo Badà
Pitichinaccio...........Angelo Badà
Frantz..................Angelo Badà
Luther..................Millo Picco
Nathanael...............Max Altglass
Hermann.................William Gustafson
Spalanzani..............Paolo Ananian
Schlemil................Lawrence Tibbett
Crespel.................Louis D'Angelo
Mother's Voice..........Henriette Wakefield

Conductor...............Louis Hasselmans

Director................Wilhelm von Wymetal
Set designer............Joseph Urban

Costume designs for Les Contes d'Hoffmann by Gretel Urban.

Les Contes d'Hoffmann received nine performances this season.

Review (excerpt) of Oscar Thompson in the November 22, 1924 issue of Musical America


Offenbach Work, Absent from Répertoire Since 1914, Restored With Impressive Trappings by Urban - Fleta, De Luca, Bori and Morgana Acclaimed in Leading Roles - Score Displays Its Many Beauties Under Baton of Louis Hasselmans - Audience One of the Largest Yet This Season - Seven More Works Added to Répertoire

After a sleep of ten seasons, Offenbach's "Tales of Hoffmann" was sung once more at the Metropolitan Opera House on the evening of Nov. 13 before an immense audience. The opera had its original production at the Paris Opéra Comique on Feb. 10, 1881, and had its American premiere at the Fifth Avenue Theater, New York, the following year. After that, though played frequently in Germany, it disappeared from these parts until revived by Oscar Hammerstein in 1907 at the Manhattan Opera House, where it was sung twenty-six times in three seasons. The Metropolitan first produced it in January, 1913, giving it five times during that season, but after two performances the following season it was dropped from the répertoire. Performances at the Century Theater were contemporaneous with those at the Metropolitan and the work has been a popular one with traveling opera companies.

"Hoffmann" is a difficult opera to produce, it is difficult to stage, it is difficult to sing. It was the product of the composer's old age, his "Benjamin," and in it he forsook his old traditions and sought new fields. That he did this with only partial success is proved by the fact that there are pages in "La Belle Hélène" and "Orphée aux Enfers" that transcend anything in "Hoffmann." Practically every role in the opera contains passages of cruel difficulty for the singer, difficulty that is by no means excused by the effect. There is a suggestion of symbolism in the text and in the characterization which is never clarified, and the story skips from country to country and from period to period with the nimbleness of a modern motion picture. All of these things complicate the tasks of everyone concerned. Added to this, a perfect cast for "Hoffmann" could be recruited only among singers who were perfect actors, or actors who were perfect singers.

Offenbach conceived the idea of an opera dealing with the life of the fantastic E. T. A. Hoffmann through seeing a play by Barbier and Carré with the weird German writer-musician as its hero, at the Odéon in 1851. He worked on the score for years and on his death in 1880 it was found unfinished, and was completed by the American, Guiraud, who wrote in so deftly the recitative's in Bizet's "Carmen." Offenbach was done with satire and sneer in "Hoffmann" and wanted to give the world a composition that would persist when his ephemeral burlesques had grown old fashioned. He almost succeeded. "Tales of Hoffmann" is still sung, though the voices of "Mme. Favart" and "The Princess of Trebizonde" linger as memories, but the fact remains that Offenbach's earlier works were masterpieces in their own particular style, while "Hoffmann" cannot honestly be said to be a masterpiece of grand opera.

For the Metropolitan revival, Mr. Gatti-Casazza has furnished settings of unusual beauty individually, he has put forward a carefully selected cast and has, in short, done everything possible to make the revival a great success, and there seems every probability that this will be the case. Mr. Urban, in designing the sets, has not stuck strictly to period, and for this reason his scene for the Tavern of Maítre Luther in Nuremberg, where the opera begins and ends, is the best of the four. That of the first act in the drawing room of Spalanzani, gorgeous in itself, is modern Viennese, and although the scene is supposed to take place in Hoffmann's youth, and though he died in 1822 at the age of forty-six, the women's costumes are about of the 1830 period. The Venetian scene relies upon a gondola's crossing the stage and the Doge's palace on the backdrop for Venetian atmosphere, and Mme. Bori's gown was a modern ball dress. The Munich scene was simple and effective in itself, but the cathedral steeple seen through the window bore no resemblance to the twin spires of the Frauenkirche, which are as characteristic of the Bavarian capital as the Sphynx is of Egypt.

The singing was in the main very good, indeed, the following artists being heard in the chief rôles: Olympia, Nina Morgana; Giulietta and Antonia, Lucrezia Bori; Nicklausse, Kathleen Howard; Hoffmann, Miguel Fleta; Coppelius, Dappertutto and Miracle, Giuseppe De Luca; Andres Cochenille, Franz and Pitichinaccio, Angelo Bada. The other rôles were distributed as follows: A Voice, Henrietta Wakefield; Spalarzani, Paolo Ananian; Schlemil, Lawrence Tibbett; Lindorf, James Wolfe; Crespel, Louis d'Angelo; Nathaniel, Max Altglass; Hermann, William Gustafson, and Luther, Millo Picco. Louis Hasselmans conducted.

Mme. Morgana made a delightful doll. She was mechanical in her movements and even sang with a flat quality of voice, though with perfect intonation, doing "Les Oiseaux dans la Charmille" very well, indeed. Her costume was also chic and charming. Miss Bori was a seductive Giulietta, a rôle quite apart from her natural personality, thus exhibiting her dramatic ability in delineating a character remote from her own. She also made the transition to the pathetic Antonia, which she had sung in the former Metropolitan production, with remarkable sharpness. Her singing was very beautiful and she demonstrated that she is one of the most valuable lyric sopranos of the day, not only by her beautiful voice but by even coloring it quite differently in the two scenes.

Mr. Fleta looked the part of Hoffmann to perfection, though his playing the entire work with the same makeup might be questioned. His singing was of great beauty and he negotiated the terrific passages in "Ah, Vivre Deux" and "O Dieu de quelle Ivresse" with perfect ease. He was also particularly effective in the Prologue and the Epilogue. Mr. De Luca, assuming three rôles of utterly different character, was most effective in the first and last. His Coppelius was an engaging comic bit and his scenes with Mr. Ananian were very cleverly done. His Miracle, with a remarkable makeup, in the last act was fantastic and cleverly conceived. In the Venetian scene his voice sounded particularly well, and the so-called "Mirror Song" was one of the best pieces of singing in the entire production, but dramatically he was less effective than in his other two rôles.

Review of guest critic Ernest Newman (UK) in the Post

"The Tales of Hoffmann"

Though the casting may have been improved upon, a good deal of care had evidently been spent upon the production of "The Tales of Hoffmann." It is a mistake, I think, to let an actress double the parts of Giuiletta and Antonia. For one thing, it is inevitable, if this is done, that we should recognize the timbre of the voice in the two impersonations, and so a good deal of the point of Hoffmann's triple story goes. For another, it is making too much of any singer that she shall be equally convincing in two parts that are the very opposite of each other, physically, mentally and vocally. Last night the slight edge on Mme. Bori's voice gave the right nervous fret to the psychology of the ailing Antonia; but it was the wrong voice for the imperious and voluptuous Giulietta.

Mr. de Luca, again, was really successful only in the third of his parts, Dr. Miracle. This was a very subtle and finished piece of work, always fantastic but never comic, as the character become with some actors. Not the least effective feature of Mr. de Luca's performance was the economy of his gestures. But neither his Coppelius nor his Dapertutto had the same vitality. Whether he was reserving his voice for the final scene or not I cannot say, but the Coppelius was under-sung throughout; one missed the more pungent humors of the part. Nor was his Dapertutto either strong enough or sinister enough; he did not draw the whole action of the second scene about him as Dapertutto should.

This scene, in fact, missed fine generally. Neither Giuilietta's voice nor her personality had the color of the rich Venetian setting. And in the quarrel between Hoffmann and Schlemil we missed the accustomed thrill because both characters maintained too much of the singing quality in their tones, and too high a pitch. The maximum of tragic effect is got here by carrying on the dialogue in the lowest and quietest possible conversational tone; the sudden change from song to speech, if it is properly done, makes these few seconds as sinister, as full of foreboding, as any corresponding period of time in any opera.

Mr. Fleta put an admirable restraint upon himself for the most part. It is true that he could not help remembering at times that he is an Italian opera tenor; he would now and then dwell too long on a high note, give it a volume that had no relation to the rest of the phrase, and move forward, facing the audience in such a way as to cease to be Hoffmann and become Mr. Fleta appealing for the customary recognition from the audience. But in the main he denied himself the cheap vocal effects of Italian opera, and aimed at that easy conversational style that is the essence of the part.

The unaccustomed restraint put a strain on his singing, and accounted for an occasional uncertainty in intonation; but to one hearer, at least, this was more than made up for by the dramatic interest the character gained. Hoffmann should never be quite real; he should always convey the impression that he is not actually living these three episodes, but only musing upon them as he tells them to his companions. We should see them inside his brain rather than as slices of reality. Mr. Fleta's general quietness of manner went a good way towards creating this feeling in us.

The Nicholas of Miss Katherine Howard had several good points, but she did not quite suggest the character as it really is, the ever-attendant shadow, half sympathetic, half ironic, of the self-deluding Hoffmann. Miss Morgana sang the doll's music with a pleasant tone and a good deal of fluency, and the other parts were all competently done. Mr. Hasselmans and the orchestra were excellent, and the settings, particularly those of the cellar and the Venetian scene were admirable.

Photographs of Lucrezia Bori as Giulietta and Giuseppe De Luca as Dr. Miracle in Les Contes d'Hoffmann by Herman Mishkin.

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