Major Operas | La belle Hélène by Jacques Offenbach | High Romantic

Fair Helen

Composed: 1864
Premiered: 1864, Paris
Libretto by Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy

Act I

Since Pâris awarded Vénus the golden apple, her cult has become more popular than Jupiter’s. Hélène, wife of King Ménélas of Sparta, is waiting for Pâris to come and claim her. Disguised as a shepherd, Pâris enlists the help of Calchas, High Priest of Jupiter, and it is soon apparent that Hélène is interested. The Kings of Greece enter for a ceremonial intelligence test, which the shepherd wins easily. Hélène is flustered and thrilled when Pâris announces his true identity. Calchas arranges for a divine thunderstorm to occur and, speaking as the oracle, instructs Ménélas to go to Crete for four weeks.

Act II

After consulting a statue of her parents, Hélène receives Pâris in her apartments. He insists that she shall be his, by trickery if necessary. The kings arrive to play the Game of Goose. Hélène excuses herself and prepares for bed, asking Calchas to send her a beautiful dream of Pâris, who has disguised himself as a guard. He slips into her room. When she awakes she thinks it is all part of the promised dream. Ménélas returns unexpectedly and summons the kings to witness his dishonour. Pâris is ordered to leave.


The court has moved to Nauplia. Hélène insists that it was not her fault. The kings tell Ménélas that it was due to the immoral cult of Vénus sweeping the country. Calchas and Agamemnon advise him to appease the goddess. The High Priest of Vénus arrives and demands that Hélène accompanies him to Cythera. As they sail away he throws off his disguise. It is Pâris, who announces that they are off to Troy.

Personalities | Jacques Offenbach | High Romantic | Opera


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