love and tears
by Douglas Messerli
Jules Barbier (libretto, based on his and Michel Carré’s play, based on tales by E.T.A. Hoffman), Jacques Offenbach (music), Bartlett Sher (director), Barbara Willis Sweete (director) Le contes d’Hoffmann (The Tales of Hoffmann) / 2015 [The Metropolitan Opera HD-live broadcast]
Divided into three distinct "tales," Offenbach’s work functions as a baggy monster, with the vague and often fragile interconnective link insisting that the stories all represent the poet’s failed loves ; yet productions have, at times, lopped off an act or, at other times, added another. The opera, moreover, sometimes effortlessly, at other times rather clumsily, shifts between realism, fantasy, and literary autobiography while delving into the grotesque. Particularly under Bartlett Sher’s Metropolitan Opera direction, the work seems nearly always teetering on the edge of a Kafka-like nightmare tinged with a Berlin-cabaret sexuality that borders also on camp (Sher insists his sources were Austrian, but they seem much closer, to my way of thinking, to the Berlin of the 1920s.).