xxxxxOrpheus in the Underworld of 1858 was one of more than eighty light musical comedies produced by the German-
JACQUES OFFENBACH 1819 -
Offenbach: 1860s, artist unknown.
xxxxxOffenbach excelled in the composing of witty, scintillating “musicals”, in which he delighted his audiences with a multitude of catchy tunes and lively dance rhythms. These “opéras bouffes” were frivolous, carefree romps, but some also had sharp satirical intent, and were used to poke fun at one or more aspects of Parisian life during the Second Empire, -
xxxxxAmong Offenbach’s many other operettas were Ba Ta Clan of 1855, Blue-
xxxxxOffenbach was born in Cologne, the son of a bookbinder and music teacher, and from an early age showed a marked ability at playing the cello. He was sent to Paris as a youngster to study at the Conservatory, but was obliged to leave the course in 1834 because of lack of funds. He eventually obtained a place in the orchestra of the Opéra Comique, and it was there that he gained fame as a cello virtuoso. He was soon playing with the likes of Liszt and Mendelssohn, and performing at concerts. At one time in his career he visited London to play before Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.
xxxxxIn 1850 he became conductor at the Théâtre Française and five years later was managing his own musical theatre, the Bouffes Parisiens. He ran this little theatre until 1861, and it was here that, turning his skills to the composing of light burlesques, he produced some of his finest works. He then continued work as a composer at Ems in Germany and Vienna in Austria, but with the coming of the Franco-
xxxxxHe took over the management of the Théâtre de la Gaîté, but was declared bankrupt in 1875. He then took himself off to the United States in the hope of recouping some of his losses, but the tour was not the success he had hoped for. In 1877 he returned to Paris set on producing his final work, his one and only grand opera. It proved a race against death and he lost. He died in October 1880 and was buried in Montmartre cemetery. The Tales of Hoffmann was first performed in February the following year, his 102nd work for the stage.
xxxxxOffenbach created a new style of music and one in which he reigned supreme. His infectious, exhilarating melodies showed a great deal of invention, and he is rightly regarded as the father of the French operetta, and a precursor of the modern musical comedy. His subject matter, it must be said, came in for a deal harsh criticism from certain quarters. Some critics, for example, saw his works as indecent and vulgar, and nothing short of “sexual instinct expressed in melody”, a product of the “fleshy school of music”. The German composer Richard Wagner (who had been the butt of Offenbach’s satirical comment) described Orpheus in the Underworld as “a dung heap on which all the swine of Europe wallowed”, whilst the Irish dramatist George Bernard Shaw considered his music as “a snap of the fingers in the face of moral responsibility”. Doubtless contributing to these comments was the “cancan”, the high-
xxxxxBut despite such depravity -
xxxxxIncidentally, Offenbach’s father, Isaac Juda Eberst, was born in Offenbach-