• Les Contes d'Hoffmann Educator Guide

What to Expect from Les Contes d'Hoffmann

A beautiful mechanical doll. An irresistible courtesan. A visit from beyond the grave—or is it just an illusion? All these, plus an imaginative hero who never gets the girl, show up in the charming, creepy, deeply moving tales of Hoffmann. The Met’s new production of Jacques Offenbach’s masterwork has been inspired by a variety of influences that reflect the opera’s multiple dramatic layers—including Kafka, classic Hollywood cinema, and even Woody Allen.

Like Kafka and Allen, the real-life E.T.A. Hoffmann was a writer—the creator of the Nutcracker as well as the stories on which Les Contes d’Hoffmann (“The Tales of Hoffmann”) is based. But in the operatic version, Hoffmann doesn’t simply write stories: he lives them. That’s why, beneath the enchantment and the quirky robotics, Hoffmann is a psychological drama. Tony Award winner Bartlett Sher (South Pacific) returns after the triumph of his Met Barber of Seville to direct. He calls Hoffmann a “magical journey in which the title character works out different manifestations of his psyche.”

Each of Hoffmann’s tales is a stop along the way, adding up to a complex narrative structure. “Rather than a linear narrative,” Sher explains, “the opera is made up of poetic representations of the state of the character’s mind.” Four villains, all played by the same performer, are obviously one: Hoffmann’s nemesis. The same may be true, psychologically, of the four women Hoffmann loves, though the Met’s production highlights their individuality, casting three singers in four roles. And then there’s Hoffmann’s muse, who, right at the beginning, announces that she’s going undercover as the writer’s young (male) sidekick.

  • Classroom Activity

    A full-length activity, designed to support your ongoing curriculum.
  • Musical Highlights

    Five "Musical Highlights" designed to focus on bits of music from Les Contes d'Hoffmann to cultivate familiarity with the work.
  • Performance Activities

    Performance Activities for students to enjoy during the Metropolitan Opera HD transmission.
  • Post-Show Discussion

    A post-transmission activity, integrating the Live in HD experience into students' wider views of the performing arts and humanities.

Les Contes d'Hoffmann at the Met

The Met has assembled a first-rate cast for this new production. Maltese tenor Joseph Calleja sings the title role, opposite star soprano Anna Netrebko, who plays Antonia. Alan Held portrays the four villains, and the Met’s Music Director James Levine conducts.

This guide offers a peek into the “anything can happen” world of Hoffmann. It can also help you and your students examine the timeless concerns that power the tales. The full-length Classroom Activity investigates how the writers of Les Contes d’Hoffmann created a formal innovation—by introducing ironic humor to opera. Shorter activities look closely at Offenbach’s creative decisions in setting E.T.A. Hoffmann’s tales to music. By familiarizing young people with the operatic Hoffmann, his exploits and his obsessions, the guide seeks to heighten their enjoyment of the Met’s Live in HD presentation.

The synopsis can be found here.