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Opera Abbreviated: The Tales of Hoffmann

Les contes d'Hoffmann/The Tales of Hoffmann is presented live in HD in movie theaters around the world on January 31 at 1pm. For a list of Columbus area theaters presenting the Met live in HD, checkout Fathom Events website.

What kind of guy falls in love with a greedy courtesan, a sickly soprano and a bot, all in the same opera?

The poet, Hoffmann. E.T.A. Hoffmann, the German writer, theater manager, composer and gadfly inspired Jacques Offenbach's opera Les contes d'Hoffmann, the last work of a German born Parisian who was known as the Mozart of The Champs Elysees.

Jacques Offenbach (1819-1881) was not good-looking, and not much of a personality, but oh my, he was successful with the opera-bouffes he wrote for his own theater in Paris. These comic gems satirized, the church, the military, marriage, whatever was cherished by Parisian society. There was rarely an empty seat.

But it was not enough.

Offenbach had the music hall, but he wanted the august Paris Opera itself. Les contes d'Hoffmann was intended to be Offenbach's entree into a new career as a serious composer. It was not to be.

The composer died in 1880, leaving Hoffmann incomplete. To this day there is no definitive version of Hoffmann and his loves.

This hasn't kept The Tales of Hoffmann  from being a world wide favorite for over 100 years. A drunken Hoffmann, stood up by his current love, tells of his devotion to three women: the robot, the singer and the seductress.

Each relationship is thwarted by a nemesis. Hoffmann is ultimately protected, and restored to poetry by his muse, who takes the form of his buddy Nicklausse. A buddy who gets in the way like a third wheel, but three times keeps our poet hero from disaster.

There are comic elements of this rich score. What would you call a singing robot? But there is a darkness not present in the comic operas Offenbach's public loved. He was reinventing himself with Hoffmann. "What if?" becomes "why not?" with his epic and vastly entertaining opera.

Christopher Purdy is Classical 101's early morning host, 7-10 a.m. weekdays. He is host and producer of Front Row Center – Classical 101’s weekly celebration of Opera and more – as well as Music in Mid-Ohio, Concerts at Ohio State, and the Columbus Symphony broadcast series. He is the regular pre-concert speaker for Columbus Symphony performances in the Ohio Theater.