Metropolitan Opera 2017-18 Preview: Looking Back at All 6 ‘Les Contes d’Hoffmann’ Productions

By David Salazar

“Les Contes d’Hoffmann,” or “The Tales of Hoffmann,” has always been a Metropolitan Opera favorite, receiving performances in every single decade since it 1913 debut at the big house.

The opera returns this season, opening on Sept. 26 for nine performances featuring star tenor Vittorio Grigolo in the lead role and one which he has performed previously at the house to stellar reviews.

The current production, directed by Bartlett Sher, its premiere on Dec. 3, 2009, is the sixth in the Met’s history. Here is a look back at all the production of “Les Contes” over the past century.

Jules Speck (1913) 

The Speck production was the first in the company’s history, bowing on Jan. 11, 1913 with a cast featuring Umberto Macnez in the title role. That production garnered 13 performances in total, its final one coming on April 27, 1915.

Wilhelm von Wymetal (1924) 

The second production of the Met premiered on Nov. 13, 1924 and featured Miguel Fleta as the lead character with Lucrezia Bori singing Giulietta and Antonia. Nina Morgana was Olympia while Giuseppe de Luca took on the villains and Angelo Badà sang four other roles throughout the production. That production lasted 24 years, its final performance coming on Feb. 25, 1946. It was showcased for 55 performances in total.

Cyril Ritchard (1955)

The arrival of Rudolf Bing meant that a lot of new productions would come to the stage and this opera was no exception. Premiering on Nov. 14, 1955, the cast was full of all-stars with Richard Tucker as the failed hero, Roberta Peters as Olympia, Risë Stevens as Giulietta, and Lucine Amara as Antonia. The production was well-reviewed by Irving Kolodin of the Saturday Review, who noted that, “The staging of Cyril Ritchard is so good that one almost forgets a very gifted theatrical mind has put it together.” It lasted 50 performances, the last one on April 17, 1971.

Bliss Hebert (1973)

Every great superstar needs his or her own new production and the one that premiered on Nov. 29, 1973, was created with two great singers in mind, or really only one. Joan Sutherland sang the three heroines and Thomas Stewart doubled as the main villains. Of course, Plácido Domingo was the leading man in a production that was dubbed “ingenious” at the time. The production only got 19 performances and proved to be a one-time showcase for Sutherland. Its last performance came that very season where it debuted.

Otto Schenk (1982)

The opera would get a hiatus after the Sutherland-Hebert production, and return almost a decade later with a production starring Domingo, Ruth Welting, Tatiana Troyanos, and Christiane Eda-Pierre. Michael Devlin played the villains on March 8, 1982, the night the production premiered. The Schenk production was, by far, the most popular in Met history, as it was showcased a whopping 100 times between 1982 and its final performance on Jan. 8, 2005.

Bartlett Sher (2009) 

The current production first appeared with a cast featuring Joseph Calleja, Anna Netrebko, Kathleen Kim, Ekaterina Gubanova, Kate Lindsey, and Alan Held. It has gotten 27 performances to date with another nine set for this season.