This month, the National Ballet of Japan presents Peter Darrell’s interpretation of Jacques Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann, regarded as one of the finest of Darrell’s long narrative works. First staged by the Japanese company in 2015, the ballet was praised for the creative way in which it was interpreted.
Darrell, founder Director of Scottish Ballet in 1969, was said to be one of the most prolific choreographers of his generation, having created a repertoire of works dealing with subjects not normally dealt with in ballet. This particular ballet, representing his unique approach to story-telling, was first performed by Scottish Theatre Ballet in 1972. It was subsequently staged by the American Ballet Theatre, the ballet companies of the National Theatre of Belgrade and the National Theatre of Prague, the Australian Ballet, Tokyo’s Asami Maki Ballet Company and Hong Kong Ballet.
The German-born French composer Jacques Offenbach became world famous for his operettas during his lifetime – lightweight comedies which featured many popular melodies which have retained their popularity even today. He nevertheless longed to become well known for more serious operas, and his hope was that Les Contes d’Hoffmann – his opéra fantastique which he began writing in 1877 – would achieve this ambition. As it happened, the opera did, but Offenbach died in 1880 while the production was still in rehearsal. The premiere took place at the Opéra-Comique on 10th February, 1881.
Les Contes d’Hoffmann was written as a tribute to the German Romantic author, composer and poet, E T A Hoffmann, who was known for his stories in which supernatural and sinister characters moved in and out of men’s lives. It was based on a play by Jules Barbier (who wrote the original libretto) and Michel Carré, and takes the form of a sequence of three short stories, telling of a fruitless search for love, with the real life Hoffmann as its main character.
In the Prologue, Hoffmann is waiting in a tavern for his lover, prima donna La Stella. Accompanied by Lindorff, the devil in disguise, he is encouraged to talk of his previous loves – all of whom were conjured up by the devil. First there was Olympia – a mechanical doll, Olympia, whom Hoffmann believed to be human after donning a pair of glasses given to him by the devil disguised as Spalanzani. Then there was Antonia who was convinced by Dr Miracle (actually the devil) that she was a ballerina, and who danced to her death. Lastly there was the courtesan Giulietta in the salon of Dapertutto (again the devil), who seduces Hoffmann, but who vanishes with Dapertutto. Hoffmann finally falls into a deep sleep, La Stella returns, and disappointed in him, goes off with Lindorff. Hoffmann, realising what has happened, is left completely alone.
Opera directors, conductors and musicologists have all taken on the task of reimagining Hoffmann, and for 100 years after its creation, manuscripts of various parts of the opera continued to be found, and many different versions of the score have been assembled.
The staging of this production is overseen by Noriko Ohara OBE, ex-Principal Dancer of Scottish Ballet and Artistic Director of the National Ballet of Japan, and Kenn Burke, former Soloist of Scottish Ballet and Artistic Director of Dance at the Dance School of Scotland. Choreography and scenario are by Peter Darrell, and Offenbach’s music was arranged and orchestrated by John Lanchberry.
The Tokyo Symphony Orchestra is conducted by Paul Murphy, a member of Birmingham Royal Ballet since he joined the company in 1992. He was appointed Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Principal Conductor in 1997, is a regular conductor for the Royal Ballet, and has led many of the world’s finest ensembles.
Four performances of the National Ballet of Japan’s production of The Tales of Hoffmann take place at the Opera Palace in Tokyo between 23rd and 25th February. Further information and tickets are available from the National Ballet of Japan website.
All photographs by Takashi Shikama
Information sourced from:
National Ballet of Japan programme notes