In 1969, Patrice Chéreau is invited to the Two Worlds Festival in Spoleto, Italy, to stage his first opera: Gioacchino Rossini’s L’Italiana in Algeri. He accepts the proposition without hesitation given that for several years he has been nurturing the idea that opera could be “even more theatrical than theatre”. In 1974, Rolf Liebermann invites him to stage Jacques Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann at the Palais Garnier.
In both productions, the quest for “theatre” pushes Chéreau to take considerable liberties with the librettos – for which he is strongly criticized. With L’Italiana in Algeri, he adds an entire prologue in which he himself performs the role of an impresario. In The Tales of Hoffmann, he replaces the usual recitatives with spoken dialogues: some of these are created from scratch, others are restored from the original libretto. He also makes cuts and modifies the order of the acts in order to accentuate the work’s dramatic impact.Chéreau also aims to strip The Tales of Hoffmann of all the Second Empire aesthetics and return to the literary source that originally inspired the composer: the Gothic Tales of E.T.A. Hoffmann. So as to “recreate the authenticity of the German horror story”, Chéreau fills the work with solemnity and foreboding to create an eerie, unreal atmosphere, similar to that of expressionist cinema.
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