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Mad Loves

Mad Loves: Women and Music in Offenbach's "Les Contes d'Hoffmann"

Heather Hadlock
Copyright Date: 2000
Pages: 192
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  • Book Info
    Mad Loves
    Book Description:

    In a lively exploration of Jacques Offenbach's final masterpiece, Heather Hadlock shows howLes Contes d'Hoffmannsummed up not only the composer's career but also a century of Romantic culture. A strange fusion of irony and profundity, frivolity and nightmare, the opera unfolds as a series of dreamlike episodes, peopled by such archetypes as the Poet, the Beautiful Dying Girl, the Automaton, the Courtesan, and the Mesmerist. Hadlock shows how these episodes comprise a collective unconscious. Her analyses touch on topics ranging from the self-reflexive style of the protagonist and the music, to parallels between nineteenth-century discourses of theater and medical science, to fascination with the hysterical female subject.

    Les Contes d'Hoffmannis also examined as both a continuation and a retraction of tendencies in Offenbach's earlier operettas andopéra-comiques.Hadlock investigates the political climate of the 1870s that influenced the composer's vision and the reception of his last work. Drawing upon insights from feminist, literary, and cultural theory, she considers how the opera's music and libretto took shape within a complex literary and theatrical tradition. Finally, Hadlock ponders the enigmas posed by the score of this unfinished opera, which has been completed many times and by many different hands since its composer's death shortly before the premiere in 1881. In this book, the "mad loves" that driveLes Contes d'Hoffmann--a poet's love, a daughter's love, erotic love, and fatal attraction to music--become figures for the fascination exercised by opera itself.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-6672-4
    Subjects: Music

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-2)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 3-16)

    Benjamin’s characterization of the storyteller as a mediator between past and present, between life and death, and as a figure who cannot be securely located in any single condition, will serve to introduce my discussion of Offenbach’sLes Contes d’Hoffmann, which may be interpreted on more than one level as a death-utterance. Death plays a prominent role in the plots of the opera’s three tales: the death of illusions, in the story of Olympia; the death of love, in the story of Antonia; and the symbolic death of the lover himself in the story of Hoffmann’s lost reflection. But the...

  5. CHAPTER ONE Telling the Tales
    (pp. 17-41)

    The nineteenth-century librettist, at least before the advent ofLiteraturoper, was not expected to treat literary sources with any particular reverence, and among librettists Jules Barbier and Michel Carré have an unusually poor reputation in this regard. Indeed, history has generally condemned these busy men of the theater as insensitive to or unconcerned with literary values as they rummaged through world literature for plots, characters, and colorful situations. In their hands, the philosophical drama ofFaustdevolved into a picturesque romance; for Ambroise Thomas they reducedWilhelm Meister’senigmatic Mignon to a sentimental heroine, happily if improbably married off to...

    (pp. 42-66)

    When the fantastical dramaLes Contes d’Hoffmannopened at the Théâtre de l’Odéon in March 1851, contemporary commentators did not remark on the number of liberties that playwrights Jules Barbier and Michel Carré had taken with E.T.A. Hoffmann’s original stories. Indeed, in introducing Barbier and Carré’s adaptation to his readers, Théophile Gautier claimed that “Hoffmann’s stories take form and unscroll themselves before the eyes of the spectator,” noting neither the new forms of Barbier and Carré’s “tales of Hoffmann” nor the addition of a few new characters to the cast.¹ The most significant of Barbier and Carré’s innovations was Dr....

    (pp. 67-85)

    That the hysteric has proved a useful rhetorical figure for feminist discussions of opera and Western art music as a whole is evident in Catherine Clément’s references to heroines and singers alike as “girls who jump into space” and “hysteric[s] in [their] midnight hour,” and in Susan McClary’s invocation of various “madwomen” including Monteverdi’s lamenting Nymph, Donizetti’s Lucia, and the nameless protagonist of Schoenberg’sErwartungto illustrate conflicts between expression and repression in musical discourse.¹ It is easy to label operatic performances, particularly those of female sopranos, as “hysterical,” for like the behaviors attributed to hysterics in the nineteenth and...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR Offenbach, for Posterity
    (pp. 86-112)

    Every critic who reported onLes Contes d’Hoffmann’s 1881 premiere agreed that it represented not only a departure from Offenbach’s characteristic style, but a conscious bid for artistic success and lasting esteem. Auguste Vitu ofLe Figarodescribed it as “the dear, treasured work, Offenbach’s supreme hope; he wished that the score ofLes Contes, avenging at last all the misfortune that had dogged his previous efforts at the Opéra-Comique, should at last assure his renown, above and beyond operetta, in the ranks composed of musical dramas…. AfterLes Contes, the name of Jacques Offenbach, already so well-known, is found...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE Reflections on the Venetian Act
    (pp. 113-134)

    As long as human beings have represented abstractions as allegorical figures, Music has been a woman. The conceit is as old as the muses, Calliope and Polyhymnia; as old as Monteverdi’s La Musica descending from Parnassus to tell the story of Orfeo and his lyre. Prior to poets, prior to song, there is music, and music is a woman. Bizet, for example, “love[d] Italian music as a mistress,” and Auber wryly remarked that his early infatuation with music had long ago faded into a marriage. Music—as lofty Muse, enchanting mistress, infuriating coquette, dutiful wife—was a woman to all...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 135-148)
  11. Bibliography
    (pp. 149-160)
  12. Index
    (pp. 161-165)