The operetta The Tales of Hoffman by the French composer Jacques Offenbach (1819 – 1880) remains a much-loved part of the standard opera repertory.
Although the vocal score was substantially complete at the time of Offenbach’s death he had only made a start on the orchestration (which was subsequently completed by others). In his later years – and despite failing health – he had strived to complete the work (telling his dog ‘’I would give everything I have to be at the première”) but it was sadly not to be: he died just four months before the work’s first performance.
Offenbach originally wrote the operetta’s most famous number – the Barcarolle – for an earlier work Die Rheinnixen (1864) in which it is known as the Elves’ Song. In The Tales of Hoffman it appears as Belle nuit, ô nuit d’amour – a duet for soprano and mezzo-soprano in which they sing about the beauty of the night and of love. It is surely one of the most popular melodies ever written and its appeal endures today.