Dhe beginning was difficult. The Staatstheater has entrusted the drama director Claudia Bauer with a first opera and one of the most demanding. Jacques Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann, sung here in the original French, is an amazing work. Not only musically, because one hit follows the next and the composer monograms what is happening on stage more than it reflects or interprets it. Contrary to what is usual in nineteenth-century opera, the plot is set in the nineteenth century and comments on its myths of everyday life: the uncanny desire of German students for collective singing and drinking, the emerging world of automatons and prostheses, the fascination of the seemingly enlightened world through ghosts, sorcery and evil – the most common word in Jules Barbier’s libretto is “diable” – and above all the fates of romantic love.
The woman as a fetish, doll, singer and courtesan. Offenbach lets ETA Hoffmann suffer in reality what he had dreamed up in literature about the objects of his desire. This amounts to a maximum penalty for the poet, three nightmares from which he hardly wakes up, but only finds himself in the next one. The world must be romanticized was the motto of Hoffmann’s era, and Offenbach shows what it would look like then. The romanticized woman appears as a lifeless art object, as a girl bleeding to death from art and as a scheming master of commercial eros who steals her customer’s reflection.
Debacle of male fantasies
Claudia Bauer concentrated entirely on this debacle of male fantasies. That’s why her beginning was difficult. For in the first act of the opera there is almost no female object. In Offenbach he plays “Lutter und Wegner” in Hoffmann’s favorite bar – at Barbier’s “Luther”! – which the writer frequented at night. They know him there, demand stories from him, sing satirical songs with him, and the music and lyrics are always on the verge of smashing the furniture. Bauer, her stage designer Andreas Auerbach and the costumes, which Vanessa Rust and Patricia Talacko designed very colorfully, de-romanticize the scene. She’s now playing in a bar that’s reminiscent of Edward Hopper’s pictures, with colorful neon lighting, and the drinks are served in plastic cups, which usually don’t have anything in them. A feast according to the motto “A day without wine is like a day without beer” (Thomas Kapielski) does not result from it. How can you stage an opera that begins with the phrase “Je suis la bière” without full glasses? The students have become only moderately drunk tourists who no longer have anything threatening about them, are choreographically quite immobile and it is difficult to see what holds them together or connects them to the drunk poet.