Theatre: The Tales of Hoffmann

A chronically unlucky writer visits a bar during the entr’acte of a production of Don Giovanni (starring the current object of his affection). The other patrons ask him to entertain them with stories, so he tells of how he met and lost each of his previous three great loves: Olympia, Antonia, and Giulietta.

French title: Les contes d’Hoffmann. A five-act opera in French, with score by Jacques Offenbach and libretto by Jules Barbier. The writer protagonist is a fictionalized version of E. T. A. Hoffmann, and the plot draws from three of the real Hoffmann’s stories: "The Sandman", “Councillor Krespel”, and “The Lost Reflection”.

It was adapted into a famous film version by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger.


Tropes used in The Tales of Hoffmann include:

  • Beethoven Was an Alien Spy: This Hoffmann's stories are autobiographical.
  • Crosscast Role: Nicklausse, sort of – he’s a form taken by the (female) Muse.
  • Evil Sounds Deep: Councillor Lindorf, Coppélius, Dr. Miracle, and Dappertutto
  • Framing Device: The opera starts and ends in a bar, where the patrons have asked Hoffmann to entertain them with stories. The three inner acts are the stories that he tells.
  • Hero's Muse: The Muse, who protects and inspires Hoffmann throughout all his adventures, and ultimately encourages him to choose art over earthly romance.
  • Inexplicably Identical Individuals: Hoffmann’s four nemeses are all played by the same baritone: Councillor Lindorf (frame story), Coppélius (Olympia’s story), Dr. Miracle (Antonia’s story), and Dappertutto (Giulietta’s story). They can be interpreted as a single demonic nemesis who takes multiple forms.
    • There are also four different servants played by the same character tenor.
    • And some productions cast the same soprano as all four of Hoffmann’s love interests.
  • Leitmotif: There’s a recurring ominous riff that introduces each new incarnation of the baritone villain.
  • Mad Scientist: Spalanzani is often played this way.
  • Mad Scientist's Beautiful Daughter: Olympia
  • Morally Ambiguous Doctorate: Dr. Miracle
  • Shapeshifting: The Muse takes the form of Hoffmann’s friend Nicklausse.
  • Your Soul Is Mine: Giulietta steals her clients’ reflections/souls for Dappertutto.

Alternative Title(s):

The Tales Of Hoffmann, Les Contes D Hoffmann