The Tales of Hoffmann (1951 film)

Last updated

The Tales of Hoffmann
Tales of Hoffman poster.jpg
Theatrical poster
Directed by Michael Powell
Emeric Pressburger
Written by E. T. A. Hoffmann (stories)
Jules Barbier
(opera libretto)
Michael Powell
Emeric Pressburger
Dennis Arundell
Produced byMichael Powell
Emeric Pressburger
Starring Moira Shearer
Robert Helpmann
Léonide Massine
Robert Rounseville
Pamela Brown
Ludmilla Tchérina
Ann Ayars
Cinematography Christopher Challis
Edited by Reginald Mills
Music by Jacques Offenbach
Production
company
Distributed by British Lion Films (UK)
Lopert Films (US)
Release dates
4 April 1951 (US trade)
17 May 1951 (UK trade)
26 November 1951 (UK release)
13 June 1952 (US release)
April 2015 (4K restoration)
Running time
128 minutes
136 minutes (2015 re-release)
CountryUnited Kingdom
LanguageEnglish
Box office£105,035 (UK rentals) [1]
$1.25 million (US rentals) [2]

The Tales of Hoffmann is a 1951 British Technicolor comic opera film written, produced and directed by the team of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger working under the umbrella of their production company The Archers. It is an adaptation of Jacques Offenbach's 1881 opera The Tales of Hoffmann , itself based on three short stories by E. T. A. Hoffmann.

Contents

The film stars Robert Rounseville, Moira Shearer, Robert Helpmann and Léonide Massine and features Pamela Brown, Ludmilla Tchérina and Ann Ayars. Only Rounseville and Ayars sang their own roles.

The film's soundtrack consists of music conducted by Sir Thomas Beecham and played by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. In addition to Rounseville and Ayars, singers included Dorothy Bond, Margherita Grandi, Monica Sinclair and Bruce Dargavel. The film's production team included cinematographer Christopher Challis and production and costume designer Hein Heckroth, who was nominated for two 1952 Academy Awards for his work.

Plot

Adaptation

Though the original French libretto is presented in an English translation, the film is relatively faithful to the traditional adaptations of Offenbach's last opera and incorporates his unfinished score with the thread of the plot. However, certain important changes were made in the process of adapting the story to film:

Cast

RoleActorSinger
Hoffmann Robert Rounseville
Stella/Olympia Moira Shearer Dorothy Bond (Olympia)
Antonia Ann Ayars
Giulietta Ludmilla Tchérina Margherita Grandi
Lindorf/Coppélius/Dapertutto/Dr Miracle Robert Helpmann Bruce Dargavel
Nicklaus Pamela Brown Monica Sinclair
Schlemil Léonide Massine Owen Brannigan
Spalanzani/Franz Grahame Clifford
Kleinsach/Cochenille Frederick Ashton Murray Dickie
Crespel Mogens Wieth Owen Brannigan
PitichinaccioLionel HarrisRené Soames
Luther Meinhart Maur Fisher Morgan
Stella's partner in Dragonfly balletEdmond Audran
AndreasPhilip Leaver
NathanielJohn Ford (uncredited)
HermannRichard Golding (uncredited)Owen Brannigan
Antonia's Mother Joan Alexander

Production

In the later years of his partnership with Pressburger, Powell became interested in what he termed "a composed film", a marriage of image to operatic music. [3] The finale of Black Narcissus and the ballet sequence of The Red Shoes were earlier steps toward his goal.

The Tales of Hoffmann is an achievement of this ideal, as the entire opera was prerecorded to create the soundtrack [3] and the film was edited to the rhythms of the music. The production is completely without dialogue and, with the exception of Robert Rounseville and Ann Ayars, none of the actors did their own singing. [3] Some of the singers had established careers in Britain at the time. Grahame Clifford, for example, had been a leading comedian with the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company for several years, and Monica Sinclair was fast becoming an audience favourite at Covent Garden; she would later become one of the company's most popular artists of the next two decades. The acting (especially by Helpmann) is highly stylised and similar to that of the silent-film era.

Each tale is marked by a primary colour denoting its theme. "The Tale of Olympia", set in Paris, has yellow contours highlighting the farcical nature and tone of the first act. "The Tale of Giulietta" is a hellish depiction of Venice, where dark colours, especially red, are used. The final tale, set in Greece, uses different shades of blue, alluding to its sad nature. The set design is deliberately made to look artificial with the costumes similarly stylised. The opening scene of the "Tale of Giulietta" (in which Giulietta performs the "Barcarolle", the most famous theme of the opera) is staged on a gondola that moves through deliberately artificial Venetian canals, although it does not seem to actually move on the water.

The Tales of Hoffmann was in production from 1 to 16 July 1950 at Shepperton Studios in Shepperton, Surrey, UK.

Critical reception

Following the film's world premiere in New York City, Bosley Crowther of The New York Times wrote:

[D]espite its opulence, coupled with a brilliant rendering of the score by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra under Sir Thomas Beecham's bristling baton and some masterly singing of the libretto (in English) by a host of vocal cords, this film version of the opera is, in toto, a vastly wearying show. And that is because it sates the senses without striking any real dramatic fire ... The inevitable question about this picture is how close does it come to matching the beauty and excitement of the same producers [ sic ] The Red Shoes ? Although the two films are basically different, a comparison is fair to this extent: The Red Shoes had warmth and vitality, Tales of Hoffmann is splendid and cold. [4]

Reportedly, Cecil B. DeMille sent a letter to Powell and Pressburger saying: "For the first time in my life, I was treated to Grand Opera where the beauty, power and scope of the music was equally matched by the visual presentation." [5]

For the 2002 Sight & Sound poll, George A. Romero called it his "favourite film of all time; the movie that made me want to make movies." [6] Three years earlier, Romero had introduced the film as part of the "Dialogues: Talking with Pictures" programme at the 1999 Toronto International Film Festival. [7] Romero later taped an interview for the Criterion Collection edition, discussing his love of the film and its influence on his career. Martin Scorsese, an ardent fan of Powell and Pressburger, provides an audio commentary track on the Criterion edition. [8]

In a book on the British cinema, André Bazin is quoted as saying:

The cinema thus creates here a new artistic monster: the best legs adorned by the best voice. Not only is opera liberated from its material constraints but also from its human limitations. Lastly, dance itself is renewed by the photography and the editing, which allows a kind of choreography of the second degree where the rhythm of the dance is served by that of the cinema. [9]

Accolades

At the 24th Academy Awards, The Tales of Hoffmann received two nominations, both for Hein Heckroth, for Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Color and Best Costume Design, Color; the awards in both cases went to the crew of An American in Paris .

Powell and Pressburger were nominated for the Grand Prize of the 1951 Cannes Film Festival and won the Exceptional Prize. [10] They also won the Silver Bear award for best musical at the 1st Berlin International Film Festival. [11] [12]

Soundtrack

The soundtrack was recorded at Shepperton Studios between May and September 1950, conducted by Sir Thomas Beecham. Decca obtained permission from London Films to release the soundtrack album. In response, Beecham sued, as he had not approved the release because the soundtrack did not truly represent his interpretation of the opera because of the changes made for the film. On 20 March 1951, he failed to obtain a high court injunction to prevent the release but received assurances that the album would be clearly labelled as having been taken from the soundtrack. [13]

2015 rerelease

In March 2015, the 4K restoration of the film, produced by Martin Scorsese's The Film Foundation, the British Film Institute and Studiocanal, was released in the U.S. by Rialto Pictures. The restored version runs 136 minutes, including a final -credits sequence of all the performers and singers not seen in any previous releases. [14]

Related Research Articles

<i>The Red Shoes</i> (1948 film) 1948 film by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger

The Red Shoes is a 1948 British drama film written, directed, and produced by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. It follows Victoria Page, a ballerina who joins the world renowned Ballet Lermontov, owned and operated by Boris Lermontov, who tests her dedication to the ballet by making her choose between her career and a romance with composer Julian Craster.

Michael Powell English film director

Michael Latham Powell was an English filmmaker, celebrated for his partnership with Emeric Pressburger. Through their production company The Archers, they together wrote, produced and directed a series of classic British films, notably The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943), A Canterbury Tale (1944), I Know Where I'm Going! (1945), A Matter of Life and Death, Black Narcissus (1947), The Red Shoes (1948), and The Tales of Hoffmann (1951). His later controversial 1960 film Peeping Tom, while today considered a classic, and a contender as the first "slasher", was so vilified on first release that his career was seriously damaged.

Emeric Pressburger Hungarian-British screenwriter, director and producer (1902–1988)

Emeric Pressburger was a Hungarian-British screenwriter, film director, and producer. He is best known for his series of film collaborations with Michael Powell, in a collaboration partnership known as the Archers, and produced a series of films, including 49th Parallel (1941), The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943), A Matter of Life and Death, Black Narcissus (1947), The Red Shoes (1948), and The Tales of Hoffmann (1951). He has been played on screen by Alec Westwood in the award-winning short film Òran na h-Eala (2022) which explores Moira Shearer's life changing decision to appear in The Red Shoes.

<i>The Tales of Hoffmann</i> Opera by Jacques Offenbach

The Tales of Hoffmann is an opéra fantastique by Jacques Offenbach. The French libretto was written by Jules Barbier, based on three short stories by E. T. A. Hoffmann, who is the protagonist of the story. It was Offenbach's final work; he died in October 1880, four months before the premiere.

Powell and Pressburger British filmmaking duo

The British film-making partnership of Michael Powell (1905–1990) and Emeric Pressburger (1902–1988)—together often known as The Archers, the name of their production company—made a series of influential films in the 1940s and 1950s. Their collaborations—24 films between 1939 and 1972—were mainly derived from original stories by Pressburger with the script written by both Pressburger and Powell. Powell did most of the directing while Pressburger did most of the work of the producer and also assisted with the editing, especially the way the music was used. Unusually, the pair shared a writer-director-producer credit for most of their films. The best-known of these are The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943), A Canterbury Tale (1944), I Know Where I'm Going! (1945), A Matter of Life and Death (1946), Black Narcissus (1947), The Red Shoes (1948), and The Tales of Hoffmann (1951).

<i>The Small Back Room</i> 1949 film

The Small Back Room, released in the United States as Hour of Glory, is a 1949 film by the British producer-writer-director team of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger starring David Farrar and Kathleen Byron and featuring Jack Hawkins and Cyril Cusack. It was based on the 1943 novel of the same name by Nigel Balchin. The theme is the unsung heroes of the last war, the 'backroom boys', gradually coming into their own.

<i>Oh... Rosalinda!!</i> 1955 British film

Oh... Rosalinda!! is a 1955 British musical comedy film by the British director-writer team of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. The film stars Michael Redgrave, Mel Ferrer, Anthony Quayle, Ludmilla Tchérina and Anton Walbrook and features Anneliese Rothenberger and Dennis Price.

Arthur Lawson (1908–1970) was a British art director. He had a long association with film directors Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, beginning in 1943 when he was floor manager on The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp. Three years later, when Powell and Pressburger, also known as The Archers, made A Matter of Life and Death, Lawson had graduated to assistant art director. He worked with Alfred Junge on the sets for Black Narcissus in 1947, and earned an Oscar for the set designs on The Red Shoes in 1948. Lawson's association with Powell continued right through to Peeping Tom (1960). He received a BAFTA nomination for The Bedford Incident in 1965.

Robert Rounseville was an American actor and tenor, who appeared in opera, operetta, Broadway musicals, and motion pictures.

Richard Jones CBE is a British theatre and opera director. He was born in London, and studied at the University of Hull and University of London. After working as a jazz musician, he spent 1982–83 on a bursary working with Scottish Opera and the Citizens Theatre.

1951 Cannes Film Festival

The 4th Cannes Film Festival was held from 3 to 20 April 1951. The previous year, no festival had been held because of financial reasons. In 1951, the festival took place in April instead of September to avoid direct competition with the Venice Film Festival.

<i>Herzog Blaubarts Burg</i> 1963 film

Herzog Blaubarts Burg (1963) is a film of the opera Bluebeard's Castle by the Hungarian composer Béla Bartók, written in 1911 to a symbolist libretto by the poet and later film theorist Béla Balázs. The film was made for West German television, Süddeutscher Rundfunk, and was produced by Norman Foster, who also performs the lead role. The designer was Hein Heckroth who brought in his old friend Michael Powell, for whom he had designed a number of films, to direct it. The film, which was shot at Dürer Film Ateliers in Salzburg, Austria, was out of circulation for decades because of legal problems.

Tales of Hoffmann is a 1916 silent German drama film directed by Richard Oswald. An incomplete print is held in the collection of the Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau Foundation.

Hibla Gerzmava Abkhazian soprano

Hibla Gerzmava is an Abkhazian-Russian operatic soprano who currently resides in Moscow.

Monica Sinclair was a British operatic contralto, who sang many roles with the Royal Opera, Covent Garden during the 1950s and 1960s, and appeared on stage and in recordings with Dame Joan Sutherland, Luciano Pavarotti, Maria Callas, Sir Thomas Beecham, Sir Malcolm Sargent and many others. She had a great gift for comedy, and sang in recordings of many of the Gilbert and Sullivan operettas, as well as in recordings from the standard operatic repertory.

Dennis Arundell English actor

Dennis Drew Arundell OBE was a British actor, librettist, opera scholar, translator, producer, director, conductor and composer of incidental music.

Dorothy Mary Bond was an English coloratura soprano whose star shone brightly but briefly. She was noted for the purity of her tone and the accuracy of her intonation. She became a favourite singer of Sir Thomas Beecham's, recording the voice of Olympia for the Powell and Pressburger film of Offenbach's The Tales of Hoffmann in 1950. She also recorded Delius's A Village Romeo and Juliet under Beecham, and Ernest Bloch's Sacred Service under the composer. She was killed in a road accident at the age of 31 years old.

Rosa Mannion is a British operatic soprano who has sung leading roles both in the opera houses of the UK and Europe and in the recording studio. Although particularly known for her roles in the operas of Handel and Mozart, she sang a wide repertoire during her career including Violetta in La traviata and all three of the leading female roles in The Tales of Hoffmann.

Ann Ayars American soprano and actress (1918–1995)

Ann Ayars was an American soprano and actress. Early in her career she acted in several TV series and non musical films. Later, she sang with the New York City Opera (NYCO), and became known worldwide when she sang and acted the part of Antonia in the 1951 British film The Tales of Hoffmann.

Melitta Muszely Austrian singer and opera singer

Melitta Muszely is an Austrian operatic soprano and a voice teacher. She made a career based in Germany, mainly at the Hamburg State Opera with guest contracts to the Komische Oper Berlin and the Vienna State Opera, among others. She took part in world premieres, and performed internationally in Europe. She appeared as all four female characters in Offenbach's Hoffmanns Erzählungen in the legendary 1958 production by Walter Felsenstein, and sang recitals until 2008.

References

  1. Vincent Porter, 'The Robert Clark Account', Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, Vol 20 No 4, 2000 p495
  2. 'Top Box-Office Hits of 1952', Variety, 7 January 1953
  3. 1 2 3 Elder, Bruce (16 June 1992). "The Tales of Hoffmann". The Criterion Collection . Retrieved 13 July 2021.
  4. Crowther, Bosley (5 April 1951). "Tales of Hoffmann Arrives; Lavish British Picture, With Huge Cast of Entertainers, Makes Bow at Bijou". The New York Times . Retrieved 13 July 2021.
  5. DeMille, Cecil B. "Fan Letter". powell-pressburger.org. Retrieved 21 January 2013.
  6. "George A. Romero: Top Ten". British Film Institute. Archived from the original on 26 October 2002. Retrieved 21 January 2013.
  7. Berardinelli, James (9 September 1999). "1999 Toronto International Film Festival Daily Update #1: "And They're Off..."". ReelViews.net. Retrieved 21 January 2013.
  8. Collection, Criterion. "The Tales of Hoffmann". criterion.com. Retrieved 18 November 2013.
  9. Bazin is quoted (and translated) in Kimmer, Leila (2009). Cross-channel Perspectives: the French Reception of British Cinema. Peter Lang. p. 54. ISBN   978-3-03911-360-6.
  10. "Festival de Cannes: The Tales of Hoffmann". festival-cannes.com. Retrieved 16 January 2009.
  11. "1st Berlin International Film Festival: Prize Winners". berlinale.de. Retrieved 21 December 2009.
  12. Allmovie Awards
  13. "Decca Classical discography, 1929-2009". Charm.rhul.ac.uk.
  14. "The Tales of Hoffmann - Catalogue - Rialto Pictures". Archived from the original on 26 December 2017. Retrieved 26 December 2017.

Bibliography