Offenbach, Orphée aux enfers, 1858

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Synopsis & history Libretto, (great fun!) Can-can (aka Infernal Galop) Offenbach

Friday September 22nd


Jacques Offenbach, 1819-1880

Did you know him only by the beautiful "Barcarolle” from Tales of Hoffman?   Wait, there’s more!  Offenbach is credited with writing in a fluent, elegant style and with a highly developed sense of both characterization and satire (particularly in his irreverent treatment of mythological subjects); he was called by Gioachino Rossini “our little Mozart of the Champs-Elysées.” Indeed, he was almost as prolific as Mozart. He wrote more than 100 stage works, many of which, transcending topical associations, were maintained in the repertory of the 21st century. (More from Encyc. Brit.) He was also possibly the most wonderfully caricatured face of nineteenth century music! Go here for images of the man to the Can-can from Orphée and the Barcarolle.

Here comes Operetta

If Orpheus in the Underworld reminds you of G&S (complete with patter songs) it is clearly related. Offenbach was “a powerful influence on later composers
of the operetta genre, particularly Johann Strauss, Jr. and Arthur Sullivan. … In this respect Offenbach was both well served and skilful at discovering talent. In 1856 Offenbach wrote a disquisition on the gradual divergence of Italian and French notions of comic opera, with verve, imagination and gaiety from Italian composers, and cleverness, common sense, good taste and wit from the French composers. He concluded that comic opera had become too grand and inflated. (excerpted from article on Offenbach in Wikipedia). Orphée aux enfers ("Orpheus in the Underworld"), his first full-length operetta, followed in 1858. He was to produce 18 more full-length operettas in his life.

Sending up the Orpheus legend

No, this is not the story as told from Greek myths – he turned it entirely inside out with the simple assumption that Orpheus and Eurydice were bored with each other. All else follows if you don’t revere those gods. (Jupiter is possibly a swipe at Napoleon III.) View the ‘Fly duet’ from our production here. Jupiter in disguise – yes, as a fly - seduces Eurydice. 

Our Production

Opéra National de Lyon, live, 1997 Eurydice - Natalie Dessai, Orphee - Vann Beuron, Aristee/Pluton - Jean-Paul Fouchecourt, Jupiter - Laurent Naouri, L’Opinion Publique - Martine Olmeda. Director - Laurent Pelly, Conductor - Marc Minkowski.  Review