Music: Hoffmann & Papa

Jacques Offenbach, they said in Paris, certainly can cancan. But could he write serious music? He died trying to finish his one attempt, an opera with a libretto based on stories by Germany's weird. Poe-etic story spinner, E.T.A. Hoffmann (1776-1822). The Tales of Hoffmann, first produced in 1881, four months after Offenbach's death, was a smash. The French, who wisely distrust overly sweet wines, have always had a weakness for sweet opera, and much of Hoffmann fits into the sucre fashion of Gounod's Faust, Saint-Saens' Samson et Dalila, etc. When it tries to get serious, it often just turns watery. But...

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