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Tales of Hoffmann
Jacques Offenbach died with his masterpiece not quite finished, and that has made The Tales of Hoffmann a predestined victim for adapters who have dropped some numbers, inserted others, altered the plot, fiddled with the casting, and changed the order of scenes. It has survived and kept its essential identity through many adaptations because its music is so witty and compelling, its imagination so vivid and varied, its story of the poet Hoffmann's unhappy loves so intriguing they can transcend such tinkering.
A critical performing edition prepared by musicologist Michael Kaye has made it possible to come close to Offenbach's original intentions after more than a century of misunderstanding, and major companies have begun to use that edition, but so far no universally satisfying production of it has reached video. An Opera de Lyon production, using Kaye's research but with a radically untraditional staging, has won wholehearted approval from some fans but unequivocal rejection from more.
As adaptations go, this 1951 film is the best compromise currently available on video and will always be a classic in its own right, even when a more faithful treatment becomes available. It drops some of Offenbach's music and includes some that is spurious, and it changes the plot (Hoffman's beloved Stella is made a dancer--Moira Shearer--not a singer). But at least it treats the story with affection, imagination, and technical expertise. The music presents only highlights of the score, but it is in the hands of a great conductor, Sir Thomas Beecham. The movie is essentially the work of the same team that produced The Red Shoes (directors Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger); it has the same kind of imaginative appeal and its technical resourcefulness is still exciting, still on the cutting edge despite its age. I expect eventually to add a more faithful Tales of Hoffmann to my video collection, but I will never stop enjoying this one. --Joe McLellan --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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P.s. In the same vein, I would also recommend "U-Carmen", a stunning film of Bizet's masterpiece, transplanted brilliantly to a South African township.
The current issue on VHS states that it restores scenes eliminated prior to its release. This is not the case. (I attended the initial release in Southern California). The restored scenes are those eliminated from the film for its application to U.S. television release - a real hatchet job to its last act. As might have been expected it had no home on American TV.
In addition to making it whole with the initial theatrical presentation color has been substantially improved as compared with the original VHS release. This makes it true to what was seen in comercial release and well worth the price of admission.
However, there are still scenes tantalizingly referenced in the video packaging which wound up on the cutting-room floor before comercial release of the film and which do not appear on the VHS video. First is Franz's aria "Day & Night I Am Always Slaving" and brief exchanges with Crespel which serve to establish his deafness (These can be heard on the London LP recording of the sound track, and a still of Massine during this aria appeared in the color program which was sold at the Premier). Second was the scene in which Nicklaus became Hoffmann's golden-gilded muse.
Should this film be released on DVD, which it certainly deserves to be, some effort should be made to find these missing pieces so the film can finally be seen as Powell & Pressburger originally intended.
Tales of Hoffman is an engaging film nonetheless; Offenbach had a talent for catchy melodies. Also, Moira Shearer's light-footed Olympia makes it difficult to watch anybody else in the role, especially a hefty well-fed singer. The lip-sync and the recording are good. The only dissonance is Nicklaus's wide hips. If this is ever issued on DVD, it could use English subtitles.
Most recent customer reviews
Knowing that I would be seeing the opera live, I thought it best if I prepared for it by seeing this DVD. Glad I did. Moira Shearer's Doll Song alone was worth the price.Published on March 21 2014 by Marlene Cherun
Being very familiar with the opera, I found this combination of music and dance fascinating. Acting and singing of the singers is superb as is the dancing. Read morePublished on Jan. 4 2006 by alberto Behar
As a great lover of art, music and ballet, I have to say that this is my absolute favorite dance film - a true must-see, and must-own. Read morePublished on March 5 2004 by Danielle Bennignus
The same producers behind the magic of the 1949 film, "The Red Shoes" (about a ballerina doomed to dance to her death), bring you the colorful 1950's film adaptation of the... Read morePublished on Feb. 25 2003 by Rachel Garret
I've owned this as a vhs and view it often. Perhaps Powell and Pressburger's most beautiful film, the scenes with Ludmilla Tcherina are spellbinding - especially walking on the... Read morePublished on Feb. 11 2003 by manfromlamuncha
I want this on DVD, not VHS. That's when I will buy it. Pass the word along!Published on Aug. 26 2002 by Richard M. Teeter
an extraordinary perfomance
of this visualy and musically exceptionalOpera
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