As promised, here are five different versions of the conclusion of Offenbach’s Les Contes D’Hoffmann. They are presented in chronological order. The first is taken from the 1948 recording of the opera under Andre Cluytens. Hoffmann Epilogue – Cluytens Jobin. This is a French production and my favorite. The Hoffmann was the French-Canadian tenor Raoul Jobin. Though Canadian, Jobin studied in Paris and was thoroughly imbued in the traditions of French opera. In this ending the drunk poet is addressed by his muse played by a French actress. Compare the way she (René Faure) reads her lines to the butchered French of some of the versions below. Jobin is a terrific Hoffmann. His voice is a rich spinto with a bright top. He sang at the Met from 1940 to 1950. He appeared almost entirely in French operas. He gave a final performance with the Met in Toronto in 1957. Rudolph Bing did not renew his contract when he took over the Met. After the Muse’s speech he (Hoffmann not Bing) reprises an earlier melody and collapses in a drunken stupor; a brief chorus closes the opera.
In the Met’s 1955 production of Hoffmann there is no muse in the epilogue, in fact there’s not much of anything in it. The passionate outburst that’s sung by Jobin above and Domingo and Shicoff below is omitted. After a brief chorus the opera ends. The production which I saw was brilliant, but the epilogue was disappointment. The abbreviated conclusion is surprising as Pierre Monteux, likely the greatest French conductor of the last century, was behind the baton. Hoffmann Tales of Hoffmann Met 1955 finale.
The next version is from the 1976 Chicago staging. Placido Domingo at the absolute peak of his powers is a wonderful Hoffman. The Muse is a specter compared to the French version above. After her lines Domingo closes the opera in a blaze of tenorial glory. Domingo The Tales of Hoffman Epilogue 1976.
Neil Shicoff sang Hoffmann at the Met in 1988. This reading of the epilogue is similar to that of Domingo. Shicoff’s voice is not as beautiful or full as Domngo’s and he overacts a bit, but it’s still a credible performance. Hoffmann Epilogue Met 88 Shicoff.
Because Offenbach left the epilogue unfinished or even unwritten in the main. The Met in it’s current mounting felt no compunction about writing essentially a new ending. It’s not bad, but it’s totally unlike the four others that I’ve cited here. They even bring back the Kleinzach song from the prologue. There’s no muse. Where they got the final, and quite lovely, ensemble from is a mystery to me. Even so this epilogue is pretty good. Calleja’s sound doesn’t measure up to the earlier Hoffmans presented here; it’s thinner and flutters too much. But the ending, nonetheless, has a melancholy charm to it. Hoffmann Finale Met 2009.
I’m sure you can find more endings to Offenbach’s posthumous piece. Great as the opera is it will never have a definitive version. All I can say with certainty is that had its composer lived to see it onstage he would have changed a lot of it, practical man of the theater that he was.