Quick the Night Flies

Jeremy Knight videotaped our production of The Tales of Hoffmann and has posted a clip from the Giulietta tale on YouTube. (There won’t be a recording available for sale, though.)

This will be an unfamiliar moment and an unfamiliar aria to anyone who knows the opera only from the grand opera version. I’ve explained more about this in the program notes I wrote for the production; the short version is that my version of the Giulietta tale is structured differently from any earlier version. The music is Offenbach’s, but originally written for another opera. (The same opera, in fact, that he himself borrowed his own Barcarolle from, which may be why this aria seems to fit very naturally with the rest of the music in the tale.)

I had a number of motives in restructuring the tale this way. I wanted my version of the tale to make dramatic sense from beginning to end (something no earlier version really does, in my completely unbiased opinion), and I wanted to end with E.T.A. Hoffmann’s own bleak conclusion to the story that the act is based on. To make this work dramatically, I felt it was important that Giulietta have an aria here.

An aria that Offenbach actually wrote for Giulietta in this act turned up in a bunch of manuscripts in the 1970s, but it hadn’t been published yet when I was writing the libretto ten years ago. It had been recorded, though, and I’d already decided it didn’t have the right character to work with the way I wanted to structure the story. It’s a lightweight, jaunty coloratura aria, and I didn’t think the Hoffmann who’d just sung the drinking song at Giulietta’s party was going to be won over so easily by that kind of charm. To seduce a man that bitter, Giulietta needs to present herself as a woman who is suffering deeply over a similar heartbreak in her own past.

In this song, Giulietta (played by Angela Cadelago) is pretending to be unhappy and trapped in her life to gain the sympathy of Hoffmann (Adam Flowers) — just one more step in her scheme to steal his reflection.

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