Thursday, March 12, 2015

The Tales of Hoffmann: The Operatic Masterpiece of British Cinema Restored

By José Alberto Hermosillo

“The Tales of Hoffmann” is the most beautiful, elegant, harmonious, and breathtaking opera ever made for the silver screen.
The Tales of Hoffmann, Japanese poster. Courtesy of Rialto Pictures/Studio Canal.

The allegory in Technicolor was directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger (“The Red Shoes,” “Black Narcissus”). Now, it gets a new life after a further 4K restoration by Warner Brothers, Martin Scorsese, and London Films.

The narrative resembles Shakespearian dramaturgy with some surrealist elements that were very characteristic in the 1950s. The story is told from Mr. Hoffmann’s (Robert Rounseville) perspective.

The prolog is a magnificent overture with the stunning performance of the Dragonfly ballet, where Stella, the prima ballerina, before her number, sends a message.

Hoffmann, infatuated, watches among the audience. 

Backstage, the message gets intercepted by Lindorf’s evil force.

Inside the surreal Luther’s Tavern, with melancholia, Hoffmann drowns his sorrows and sings the three tales of the women he loved.

The first tale is about Olympia, the doll from Paris. The puppeteers want to sell Olympia to Hoffmann, who falls deeply in love with her, mostly when she sings the “Doll Song.” The dark forces get ready to destroy the doll and true love. The decors and the artwork are from the modernist movement before the Eiffel Tower was built, creating a sophisticated and obscure atmosphere and setting the mood for tragedy.

The second tale is about his relationship with Giulietta, the Venetian courtesan manipulated by Daperdutto; she’s taking possession of Hoffmann’s soul with a mirror. He has to regain his identity and love for her, but it won’t be easy. Jealousy, madness, and revenge are significant factors in this unbelievable episode.

The third tale is about Antonia, the poet from a Greek Island. Her mother died of tuberculosis, and the father is mad and keeps his daughter in seclusion. She is ill and cannot sing anymore. Her mother’s spirit and doctor persuaded her to follow her heart, but it was too
 late for the tragic outcome.

The Epilogue, or the grand finale, is set inside the Opera House, the Stella’s Ballet intercuts with the tavern where Hoffmann had captivated the audience who understands the meaning of the three stories.

The non-intrusive camera by the master of the British Technicolor cinematographer Christopher Challis covers as many different angles as possible - from the audience's point-of-view, backstage, to the balcony. The camera is everywhere, so the viewer doesn’t miss any detail of the artistic composition.

“The Tales of Hoffmann” is a jewel of British cinema, now rescued for film and opera lovers worldwide. A must-see!

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1 comment:

  1. I wish I could visit this festival but sadly since I live far way I found blogs a better place to have virtual tour of it. Thank you for sharing details about the festival with us