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Submitted by Neal Lofthouse
The Tales of Hoffmann
Photoplay March 1951
A student's story of his three loves - Olympia, Giuletta, and Antonia - one hundred years ago.
Offenbach's opera, now made into a film by Powell and Pressburger in an entirely new technique combining singing, dancing and miming, takes its title from the words of the unhappy, lovelorn Hoffmann, when he addresses an audience of students in the Luther Tavern, in an ancient German city.
"Would you hear the three tales of my folly of love?" he asks and as the students gather round he begins,
"My first love was Olympia ... a doll of exquisite beauty ..."
The story of his first love is set in Paris, where the puppetmakers, Spalanzani and Coppelius, danced by Massine and Helpmann are compleating the doll Olympia, a life-sized figure (danced by Moira Shearer in the film). Hoffmann (sung by Robert Rounsville) arrives on the scene, sees the sleeping doll and falls in love with it, unaware that she has to have her eyes fitted in. Coppelius thinks Hoffmann would be a good customer for the doll and sells him a pair of magic spectacles through which Olympia appears a human being. Then a whole host of puppets arrive, dressed as guests at a ball and still looking through his magic spectacles, Hoffmann is bewitched into thinking himself also a guest. As he falls deeper and deeper into the spell he accidently touches a hidden spring in the mechanism of the puppet who tells him "Yes" in answer to his avowals of love. Nicklaus (Pamela Brown), guide and mentor to Hoffmann tries to convince him Olympia is but a doll, but only when the magic spectacles are broken does he realise the truth and how he has been fooled.
Hoffmann's second tale is set in Venice where he meets Giuletta (danced by Ludmilla Tchérina) and a sinister Dapertutto (danced by Robert Helpmann). At a masked ball Hoffmann and Nicklaus, from a balcony at the Palace, watch a sad scene between Giuletta and Schlemil, "a hunted lover without a shadow" (danced by Massine). Scornful of Giuletta's alleged power over men, Hoffmann falls in love with her - but Dapertutto soon reveals that his purpose is to capture Hoffmann's soul, and bids Giuletta steal that soul, in the form of his refection in a mirror, a she has already stolen the shadow of Schlemil. There is a duel between Hoffmann and Schlemil, in which Schlemil is killed and Hoffmann rushes to claim the lovely Giuletta ... but Dapertutto spirits the courtesan away in his gondola. In agony Hoffmann hurls a key at an empty mirror and as it cracks his relection again appears. He has regained his soul, but lost Giuletta.
The two experiences have turned Hoffmann into "a man of the world" and when his travels take him to a little cypress-covered island he finds a beautiful singer Antonia (Ann Ayars), a delicate creature, [Delicate? Ann? She's the healthiest consumptive ever seen] imprisoned in a little house, forbidden to sing by her father, because she has inherited the disease from which her mother, also a singer, had died. The villain appears, this time disguised as Dr. Miracle (again danced by Helpmann), who hypnotises the girl, convincing her that she must sing to become a great artist and she will be cured. As she sings, and reches the climax of her aria, she falls, dying ... Hoffmann's third tragic love.
The opera has a prologue in which Hoffmann at the opera watches the prima ballerina, Stella (Moira Shearer), the embodiment of his love, and it is during the inteval in the opera that he goes to the Luther tavern. In the epilogue his three loves, Olympia, Giuletta and Antonia, reappear, merging into one woman, the Stella of the opera's ballet ... but when Stella appears at the door of the tavern, accompanied by Lindorf (Helpmann) he at last realises he is destined to be a poet, with his guide and mentor, Nicklaus, as his eternal companion, his Muse.