Hoffmann is returning home following a wild night out. He is in love with a beautiful girl he does not know who lives in the house across the road and whom he calls Stella. In Hoffmann’s feverish state two alter egos come to life: the experience-rich, mature and rational Lindorf and the young poet Nicklausse. Lindorf and Nicklausse try various means to tease the amorous Hoffmann. They make fun of him, pretending that bills for the apartment are the love letters that Hoffmann dreams of receiving from the mysterious stranger. Students assemble in Hoffmann’s room – in their eyes he is a literary giant and a great authority. At the height of the friendly meeting Hoffmann begins to relate the story of his love, as it were in order to comprehend who the stranger, his beloved, actually is. Hoffmann draws his guests into his tale of three love stories.
First Love. Olympia
With Coppélius’ assistance, Spalanzani the inventor has created Olympia, an amazingly lifelike illusion. Having barely had a glimpse of Olympia, Hoffmann immediately falls in love with her. Wishing to become acquainted with the girl, he presents himself as a man of science. Coppélius appears, having come to Spalanzani for the money owed him for the work he did. In order to get rid of Coppélius Spalanzani gives him a cheque from a bank that has collapsed. Coppélius sells Hoffmann a pair of special glasses. When he wears them he finds Olympia even more beautiful. Spalanzani demonstrates his enchanting invention to a group of friends. The guests listen to Olympia’s song. Hoffmann is bewitched by her voice and he declares his love for her. But the deception is revealed and Hoffmann understands that he has been in love with an illusion.
True Love. Antonia
The young Antonia, who dreams of a career on the stage, has inherited a wonderful voice from her mother who was a renowned singer; but in addition to the voice she has also inherited a terrible disease that resulted in her mother’s death. Singing could also have tragic consequences for Antonia. Crespel, the girl’s father, tries to keep his daughter away from Dr Miracle who caused her mother’s death. Hoffmann chances to hear Crespel talking with Miracle and discovers that Antonia is ill. He makes her promise not to sing and abandon any dreams of the stage in order to dedicate herself to her family. But as soon as Hoffmann departs Miracle appears. He tempts Antonia with the glory of being a great singer and the adulation that comes with acclaim and success. Antonia imagines her mother is calling her on-stage.
Deceptive Love. Giulietta
Christmas Eve. Hoffmann’s friends have arranged a masked ball and are disguised as characters from Hoffmann’s tales. The plot about the capricious courtesan Giulietta, her lover Schlémil and the wicked Dappertutto begins as a performance in a private theatre. “Dappertutto” orders “Giulietta” to ensnare Hoffmann and steal his reflection. Obediently listening to “Dappertutto’s” demands, “Giulietta” enchants Hoffmann and obtains what she came for. Reality and fantasy are mixed together in Hoffman’s perturbed mind. He kills “Schlémil” in order to obtain the key to “Giulietta’s” bedroom and makes haste after the courtesan. “Giulietta”, however, flees with a new lover.
Hoffmann is sitting in his room alone. He stares at the window opposite where the unknown girl lived. In view of the empty rooms and a sign it is clear that she no longer resides there. Was she, in fact, ever there at all? Or did he imagine everything? A poetic fantasy? Did Hoffmann merely dream it all?