• Les Contes d'Hoffmann

The activities in this guide address several aspects of Les Contes d'Hoffmann:

  • Irony as a narrative and textural device
  • The inner lives of Offenbach’s characters
  • The opera as a commentary on the performing arts
  • The relationship between art and autobiography
  • The new Met production as both a faithful and an innovative interpretation of the opera

The guide is designed to provoke interest in Les Contes d’Hoffmann, whether or not your students have any prior acquaintance with opera. It can help you prompt them to think about opera—and the performing arts in general—as a medium of entertainment and of creative expression.

Deconstructing Irony:
A Close Look at Irony in Les Contes d'Hoffmann

Irony is a common rhetorical device. It’s found on television and in movies, in newspaper editorials, political speeches, and chatter in the school cafeteria. But it can be hard to define and even harder for students to recognize, in part because it requires attention to several layers of meaning at once, as well as to the forms of expression (for instance, words or music). Les Contes d’Hoffmann, it has been argued, brings a new level of sophistication to the art form of opera and makes new demands on its audiences. In this activity, students will examine the use of irony in Hoffmann, refining their abilities to recognize and define irony in everyday cultural experience. They will:

  • Analyze examples of verbal irony
  • Consider how the characteristics of irony can be expressed in music
  • Listen for evidence of irony in selections from Les Contes d’Hoffmann
  • Explore the use of irony in contemporary culture