The Tales of Hoffmann – San Francisco Opera – Jacques Offenbach – from “Barcarolle” to “Can Can”

The Summer Opera season has just started in  SF Opera.   Tonight we watched The Tales of Hoffmann.  The music, the singing, the costume, the set, were all beautiful.  This is the trailer from SF Opera.

The Tales of Hoffmann Trailer from San Francisco Opera

Jacques Offenbach, the Composer

Les contes d’Hoffmann (in English: The Tales of Hoffmann) is an opera by Jacques Offenbach. It was first performed in Paris, at the Opéra-Comique, on February 10, 1881.

The libretto was written by Jules Barbier, based on three short stories by E.T.A. Hoffmann. E.T.A. Hoffmann himself is a character in the opera just as he often is in his stories. The stories upon which the opera is based are Der Sandmann,Rath Krespel, and Das verlorene Spiegelbild.

The opera contains a prologue, three acts and an epilogue. Offenbach did not live to see his opera performed, since he died on October 5, 1880, just over four months before its premiere. Before his death, Offenbach had completed the piano score and orchestrated the prologue and the first act. Since he did not entirely finish the writing, many different versions of this opera emerged, some bearing little resemblance to the original work. The version performed at the opera’s premiere was that by Ernest Guiraud, who completed Offenbach’s scoring and wrote the recitatives.

 Barcarolle —  the most famous aria

The most famous aria from the opera is the “Barcarolle” (Belle nuit, ô nuit d’amour), which is performed in Act 2. Curiously, the aria was not written by Offenbach with Les Contes d’Hoffmann in mind. He wrote it as a ghost-song in the opera Les fées du Rhin (which premiered in Vienna on February 8, 1864 as Die Rheinnixen). Offenbach died with Les contes d’Hoffmann unfinished.

Ernest Guiraud completed the scoring and wrote the recitatives for the premiere. He also incorporated this excerpt from one of Offenbach’s earlier, long-forgotten operas into the new opera.

The Barcarolle has been incorporated into many movies including Life Is Beautiful and Titanic.

The most famous aria Barcarolle  ….sound familiar?   Yes, we all played it when we were children!  It is beautiful and has different ways of presentation.   I found this one played with mandolins, guitar, double bass and piano.  Enjoy!

Barcarolle, J.Offenbach, ATTIKA “Musica Poetica” official version

 “Barcarolle” was originally composed for soprano.  Let us hear these beautiful voices:

Anna Netrebko and Elina Garanca sing “Barcarolle”

Finally, please don’t forget, that Offenbach has another very popular piece widely used in movies all over the world: Can Can.  This video uses the images from the artist Toulouse-Lautrec  who is famous for his Moulin Rouge paintings.  Enjoy!

French CanCan – Jacques Offenbach (Orphée aux Enfers)

I would like to end this post with a very interesting quote from Thomas May who wrote in the program book for SF Opera.  He said that Hoffman has become Offenbach’s signature work but it has actually made a big shift of his style from light-hearted comedy. He quoted David Littlejohn’s comments: “as if the world’s most popular comedian had a try at playing Hamlet just before he died, and pulled it off successfully.”

Weekly Travel Theme – Dance – Cinderella, San Francisco Ballet – Wonderful Opening Night!


This is in response to the Weekly Travel Theme – Dance

I like this theme very much because I do have lots to share.  I have many dance pictures or videos which I took from my travels.    I may have already posted some of them, but  I may re-post them for some of my new readers.  What I want to share today is the new Cinderella ballet performed in San Francisco last Friday.

This year’s run of Cinderella is all sold out.  We are lucky to have secured our seats for Cinderella as  San Francisco Ballet subscribers.  We saw the Cinderella on Opening Night, May 3.   I think it is a  must-see dance event of the season: the U.S. premiere of Christopher Wheeldon’s magical new production of Cinderella!

I found the costumes particularly beautiful. To give you an overview of the design of Cinderella’s costumes, here’s a video posted on

” Inspired by the Brothers Grimm and Perrault fairy tales, this wildly imaginative co-production with Dutch National Ballet features something for everyone: dramatic music by Prokofiev, spectacular sets and costumes by Julian Crouch (renowned for his designs for Metropolitan Opera and the Broadway musical The Addams Family), and ingenious puppetry by Obie Award winner Basil Twist.”

The performers of Cinderella are on rotation.  On the Opening Night, the Principal dancers who played Cinderella was Maria Kochetkova, and the Prince was played by Joan Boada.

Here are two short videos about them.

I found everything beautiful and fantastic, from the choreography to the performance of all the dancers, and  from the set to the costumes.  The critics in general gave it a very good rating although they often offered a few things that they would like to improve.  To me, it was a perfect performance….except that I could not get another ticket to see it again this Season.

For the readers who would like to read the review from art critics,  here’s  an excerpt from  San Francisco Chronicle :

SF Ballet review: ‘Cinderella’ charming

S.F. Ballet weaves an imaginative odyssey with Dutch troupe
Allan Ulrich
Published 4:51 pm, Sunday, May 5, 2013

“The project, San Francisco’s first “Cinderella” in more than three decades, is a co-production with the Dutch National Ballet. Given the verve and wit on display in this American premiere, you’d think it had been custom-made for the local team of all-stars, most of whom seemed to be dancing somewhere in this performance.

All “Cinderella”s should look and dance as well as this one. But they would require a choreographer like Wheeldon, who sees the comic possibilities in even the most dire of situations and possesses both a feeling for the fantastic and a penchant for self-mockery. Friday’s performance may have stalled early in details of the back story in Craig Lucas‘ libretto (the choreography doesn’t really suit Prokofiev’s score, at this point), but once we are introduced to the mature Cinderella, her father, stepmother and hideously funny stepsisters, this ballet floats on a cloud of invention through a stunning Act 1 closer and beyond, to a breathtaking ballroom act.”

Read more:

I am sorry if you don’t  have the chance to see Cinderella this season.  I am waiting for the second round too!

“Dynamic Yunnan” – a beautiful ethnic minorities dance show in Kunming – My Yunnan Trip #1

I just came back from a 9 days’ trip to Yunnan.  The first post I would like to share with my readers is this beautiful ethnic minorities dance show in Kunming.  It is  Dynamic Yunnan, a grand, original ethnic dance show produced by the famous Yang Liping, who is a dancer, a choreographer, and producer, of the Bai ethnic minority.  My friends who went with me to this Yunnan trip, all knew about Yang Liping, while I was ignorant of her fame as a performance artist.   I am glad that I had the opportunity to see her show this time.   It is spectacular, educational, and very enjoyable.  If you go to visit Yunnan, I highly recommend you see this show.  We bought tickets of very good seats at $42@) equivalent to the orchestra seats in our concert hall.  There were quite a few non-Chinese tourists among the audience.

In order to respect the performers, I did not take any video at the time of the show, but I took a few pictures before the show began, both inside and outside the performance hall. I am posting them here just to let you taste the flavor of the show.

In all the articles that talked about this show,   there is reference to this fact that Yang Liping spent more than a year looking for original ethnic minorities dancers in different parts of Yunnan.  It is said that 100% of the dancers are of ethnic minorities in Yunnan, who left their own villages to join the troupe. The folk songs and dances are original, and the costumes are real, showing the actual way of life of the minorities. This performance is particularly impressive to me, because it shows the universe, the pursuit of culture and the origins of life.    My friends, like most of the audience, love the “Moon dance” and the “Peacock dance”.  In addition, I like the Tibetan pilgrimage dance.

I hope you will have the chance to see this show if you visit Kunming in future.  If you cannot see too much of the minority cultures in Yunnan,  you will be able to appreciate the genuine minority cultures through this show.

I tried to find a good video from you-tube and had to give up the idea to post any of them, because all those videos were unable to illustrate the beauty of this show.  You need to see it in person, unfortunately (or fortunately)!

On the other hand, I found these two clips showing the talented Yang Liping’s two most famous dances:  Moon-solo dance,  and Spirit of  Peacock.  Enjoy!

Moon – Solo Dance by Yang LiPing

Spirit of Peacock – Yang LiPing