Thursday Night Opera House

January 21, 2021 – Jacques Offenbach’s Les Contes d’Hoffmann

On this week’s Thursday Night Opera House please join us for an encore broadcast, hosted by the late Al Ruocchio, of Jacques Offenbach’s last stage work (and only true opera): Les Contes d’Hoffmann (The Tales of Hoffmann).  Born Jacob Offenbach in Cologne, Germany in 1819, his father took him to Paris in 1833, where he was enrolled at the Conservatory.  After becoming one of Europe’s finest cellists, Offenbach began composing operettas for important theaters like the Bouffes-Parisiens.  A string of hits–Orphée aux enfers (1858), La belle Hélène (1864), Barbe-bleue (1866), La vie parisienne (1866), and La Périchole (1868)–soon followed.

End of Act 3 “La mort d’Antonia” of Offenbach’s opera “Les contes d’Hoffmann,” in 1881 at the Opéra-Comique in Paris in 1881. In front: Adèle Isaac (Antonia); in back, L to R: Hippolyte Belhomme (Crespel), Marguerite Ugalde (Nicklausse), Pierre Grivot (Franz), Émile-Alexandre Taskin (Miracle), Jean-Alexandre Talazac (Hoffmann)  Author: Not Identified Date: 1881  Source: Scan of Yon, Jean-Claude (2000). Jacques Offenbach, plate 22 (after p.416) [Paris]: Galimard This file comes from Gallica Digital Library, available under the digital ID btv1b8423258f.  It is in the public domain in its country of origin and other countries and areas where the copyright term is the author’s life plus 70 years or fewer. This work is in the public domain in the United States.

Offenbach was working on Les Contes d’Hoffmann when he died on October 5, 1880. A fascinating and at times disturbing work, it tells three inter-connected stories in which Hoffmann is thwarted in love by his evil genius.  Ideally, the four villains should be sung by the same man, and the four heroines by the same woman, as they are aspects of the same person. The work, existing in piano score only, was orchestrated by Ernest Guiraud, who also made a few additions.  Hoffmann was premiered in Paris on February 10, 1881.

The opera opens in Luther’s beer cellar in Nürnberg, Germany, where students await the end of a performance of Don Giovanni, starring Stella (soprano Edita Gruberova), amorously pursued by the poet Hoffmann (tenor Plácido Domingo) and also by the sinister Counselor Lindorf (baritone Andreas Schmidt). To pass the time, Hoffmann tells the story of his three great loves, in all he is aided by his young friend Nicklausse (mezzo-soprano Claudia Eder)–who’s later revealed to be the embodiment of the Muse of Poetry. In Paris, Hoffmann is sold a magical pair of glasses by Coppélius (bass-baritone Gabriel Bacquier) and falls in love with Olympia (Gruberova), the “daughter” of the inventor Spalanzani (tenor Gérard Friedman).  She turns out to be a mechanical doll, which Coppélius destroys when he discovers that Spalanzani has double-crossed him.

In Venice, Hoffmann is having an affair with the courtesan Giulietta (Gruberova), who–at the urging of the magician Dapertutto (bass Justino Diaz)–steals his reflection.  Hoffmann kills Giulietta’s former lover Schlémil (bass Richard Van Allan) in a duel and flees for his life, having witnessed Giulietta leaving with another man.  In Munich, Hoffmann has fallen in love with the singer Antonia (Gruberova). Her father Crespel (bass Harald Stamm) has forbidden her to sing, without telling her the reason: she is consumptive as was her dead mother, also a great singer.  The evil quack Dr. Miracle (bass-baritone James Morris) brings to life the portrait of her mother and urges her to sing ever more ecstatically.  The strain is too much and she dies in Hoffmann’s arms.  Back in the beer cellar, it becomes apparent that all three of Hoffmann’s lovers are aspects of the diva Stella.  Hoffmann is now totally drunk, and a triumphant Lindorf escorts Stella away.  The opera ends with Nicklausse urging Hoffmann to return to poetry.

Seiji Ozawa conducts the ORTF Chorus and Orchestra in this 1990 Deutsche Grammophon recording.

From a 2000 production, Natalie Dessay sings Olympia’s aria, “Les oiseaux dans la charmille”:

Be sure to tune in to The Classical Station this Saturday, January 23rd, at 1:00 p.m. Eastern for the Metropolitan Opera’s January 27, 1961 performance of Giuseppe Verdi’s Il Trovatore. Leontyne Price is Leonora, Franco Corelli is Manrico, Mario Sereni is Count Di Luna, Irene Dallis is Azucena, and William Wilderman is Ferrando. Fausto Cleva conducts.

Next Thursday, January 28th, please join me for a pair of pastiche operas inspired by Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute). First performed in 1790 and 1791, Der Stein der Weisen (The Philosopher’s Stone) and Der Wohltätige Derwisch (The Beneficient Dervish) include music by Mozart, Johann Baptist Hennebert, Benedikt Schack, Franz Xaver Gerl, and Emanuel Schickaneder. Martin Perlman conducts Boston Baroque in these 1999 and 2002 Telarc recordings.

The Thursday Night Opera House is heard every Thursday evening at 7:00pm Eastern on 89.7 FM in central North Carolina, online at, and on our streaming apps.

Bob Chapman

Robert Chapman, Host of the Thursday Night Opera House


portrait of Bob Chapman, host of Opera House

Bob Chapman

Grand Opera: A Sound Delight

The Classical Station offers two wonderful opportunities each week to hear the best in opera: Thursday nights at 7:00 p.m. and Saturday afternoons at 1:00 p.m. eastern from December through May. The Thursday Night Opera House has been a regular Thursday night feature on The Classical Station since April of 1980. On Saturday afternoons from December through May, we broadcast the Metropolitan Opera Saturday afternoon matinees.

Al Ruocchio hosted The Thursday Night Opera House from 1980 until his death in 2007. On December 4, 2008, Bob Chapman became the third host of The Thursday Night Opera House, succeeding Robert Galbraith. Bob is an opera singer who continues to use his wealth of experience and talents to bring the very best works of opera to our listeners with his show.

Winter 2020–21 Listings

December 3
Puccini’s Tosca
Tosca (Freni), a singer, gives herself to the Roman police chief, Scarpia (Ramey), to save her painter boyfriend, Cavaradossi (Domingo).

December 10
Berlioz’s La Damnation de Faust
An aged philosopher, Faust (Lewis), sells his soul to the devil, Méphistophélès (Terfel), in exchange for another shot at youth, then seduces the beautiful Marguerite (Von Otter).

December 17
Cimarosa’s Il Matrimonio Segreto
Paolino (Davies) is secretly married to Carolina (Auger), younger daughter of Geronimo (Fischer-Dieskau). (From the Ruocchio Archives.)

December 24
Christmas Eve at the Opera House
Sacred Christmas music performed by past- and present-day opera stars.

December 31
J. Strauss’s Die Fledermaus
Eisenstein (Kmentt) accepts Falke’s (Berry) invitation to a party; wife Rosalinde (Gueden) is visited by an old flame, Alfred (Zampieri); maid Adele (Köth) goes to the party of Prince Orlofsky (Resnik).

January 7
Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen
A clever, sharp-eared fox known as the Vixen (Watson) learns about life while on short adventures with other wildlife and a few humans.

January 14
Verdi’s Don Carlo
Don Carlo (Sylvester) is engaged to Elisabetta (Millo), but his father Filippo II (Furlanetto) marries her instead. Rodrigo (Chernov) tries to reconcile father and son but the Grand Inquisitor (Ramey) forces the king to assassinate him.

January 21
Offenbach’s Les Contes d’Hoffmann
A poet, Hoffmann (Domingo), is inspired by three muses (Gruberová) but several villains (Bacquier, Morris, Diaz) conspire against him. (From the Ruocchio Archives.)

January 28
Mozart’s, et al., Der Stein der Weisen & Der Wohltätige Derwisch
First performed in 1790 and 1791, The Philosopher’s Stone and The Beneficient Dervish are pastiches—with music by Mozart, Henneberg, Schack, Gerl, and Schikaneder—that anticipate The Magic Flute.

February 4
Rossini’s Otello
Otello (Carreras) is in love with Desdemona (Von Stade), who’s been promised by her father, Elmiro (Ramey), to Rodrigo (Fisichella). Iago (Pastine) tells Otello that she’s been unfaithful.

February 11
Bernstein’s On the Town & West Side Story
On a 24-hour leave in New York City, three sailors (Garrison, Ollmann, Hampson) meet and connect with three women (Von Stade, Daly, McLaughlin). In a modern Romeo and Juliet story, a Puerto Rican woman, Maria (Te Kanawa), falls in love with a “real” American, Tony (Carreras).

February 18
Bellini’s Norma
A Druid priestess, Norma (Callas), is in a love triangle with her best friend, Adalgisa (Ludwig), and the father of her children, Pollione (Corelli). (From the Ruocchio Archives.)

February 25 Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande
After meeting Mélisande (Ewing) while hunting in the forest, Prince Golaud (Van Allen) marries her and then introduces his new wife to his half-brother, Pelléas (Le Roux)—and they promptly begin an adulterous relationship.

Opera House Newsletter

Bob describes the story of each week’s opera in his weekly Opera House Newsletter, e-mailed each Wednesday morning. Use the sign up form below to join the mailing list.

See previous quarters’ programming for Thursday Night Opera House.

Masthead photo: Puccini’s La Bohème by Evan Zimmerman and the Metropolitan Opera