The poet Hoffmann tells three fantastical tales of doomed love to fellow carousers while waiting for the ballerina he loves in a tavern. Throughout the tales, Hoffmann is thwarted by an enemy who appears with many faces.
The best-ever filmed opera. The producer-director team of Emeric Pressburger and Michael Powell explore the fusion of musical, ballet and filmmaking magic in The Red Shoes, and go even further into artifice in this adaptation of Jacques Offenbach’s opera, itself based on horror stories by E.T.A. Hoffmann.
The frame story, set in Nuremberg, has the poet (Rounseville) yearning for the latest incarnation of the magical woman he has pursued all his life. What undoes Hoffman, in an irony the filmmakers must have relished, is his need to tell stories, which take so much out of him that when the ballerina (Moira Shearer) turns up for their post-performance date he is an exhausted drunk and she goes off under the cloak of the malign Lindorf (Helpmann).
The best story is the first, set in Paris, where Hoffman dons magic spectacles and falls in love with the wind-up doll Olympia. Shearer, the star of The Red Shoes, gives an astonishing performance as the automaton, dancing inhumanly and finally coming to pieces.
A Venetian tale, which has the show’s hit tune (‘La Baracarole’) has duels, deals with the Devil, stolen reflections and voluptuous courtesan Giulietta (Ludmila Tcherina).
A Greek-set third act is a slight falling-off, though its climax, as an evil conductor makes soprano Antonia (Ann Ayers) sing herself to death is masterly. It uses special effects techniques Georges Méliès would have understood, but in ravishing Technicolor, with stylised sets and costumes, and amazingly physical performances mostly from dancers who mime to the perfect playback of opera singers.
The best-ever filmed opera.