Les Contes d'Hoffmann is one of the coolest operas ever, and is considered Offenbach's masterpiece. The opera tells the (fictional, yes somewhat biographical) tale of ETA Hoffmann and the four main loves of his life, Olympia the doll, Giulietta the courtesan, Antonia the singer, and Stella the diva.
"Elle a fui" opens the Antonia Act (sometimes the 2nd Act, sometimes the 3rd). Antonia is dying of tuberculosis (like most sopranos do) and has been instructed by her father (buffo tenor) not to sing, because she is too weak. However, she is in love with Hoffmann (tenor - figures), and the two love to sing together. Hoffmann secretly returns after a long time away from Antonia, without the knowledge of her father. He hides when he hears a noise. It turns out to be Dr. Miracle (bass - figures), a really sick bastard who actually killed Antonia's mother, who was also a singer. Antonia's father confronts Dr. Miracle, who says that Antonia is sick and needs his care. He actually forces Antonia to sing from her (offstage) bedroom. After he chases her father off, Dr. Miracle conjures the image of Antonia's beloved deceased mother. Through her spirit, Dr. Miracle beckons Antonia to sing. She sings beautifully in one of the coolest trios ever, but dies when her body cannot stand it anymore. Hoffmann runs on to hold the body of his beloved, but Antonia's father enters and believes that Hoffmann killed his daughter. Hoffmann is once again cursed in his efforts to find his true love.
This opera is fantastic because of all the parallelism in the acts, musically and dramatically. It is fun to analyze!
The act opens with a fortissimo, tutti chord. There is an ascending line, then an identical chord. The ascending line returns, as does the chord. A beautiful harp arpeggio is played, setting up the scene for the aria. The strings play a descending line, and Antonia begins the aria. She only makes it through the first line before she has to stop. The recitative is introduced - full orchestral accompaniment. An oboe plays Antonia's theme. The strings begin again, and Antonia sings the full aria.
The aria begins with a phrase ending in a HC, then another, symmetrial, parallel phrase that modulates - it's a progressive period. There's a B section that is so beautiful - it's held on steady high notes that are very difficult to sing. The B section modulates back to the original key for the return on the A section. The aria is in rounded binary form.
There's a second, identical verse. Only the lyrics change. The orchestral is actually the same, although the tempo in the B section is a lot faster, suggesting that Antonia is more tense.
In the aria she's basically lamenting Hoffmann's absence, and hopes that he will soon return, like the turtle dove (tourterelle).