Major Operas | Orphée aux enfers by Jacques Offenbach | High Romantic

Orpheus in the Underworld

Composed: 1858; rev. 1874
Premiered: 1874, Paris
Libretto by Crémieux and Halévy

Act I

Eurydice cannot abide her violin virtuoso husband Orphée. She would rather die than be bored to death. Jealous that she is seeing too much of the beekeeper Aristée, he tells her about the snakes in Aristée’s cornfield. She goes to warn him and is bitten. Aristée reveals that he is Pluton and whisks her off to Hades. Orphée’s freedom is cut short when Opinion Publique orders him to appeal to the gods on Olympus.

Act II

The gods are woken by Diane’s angry account of Jupiter’s interference in her love life. Pluton has been summoned to answer for his actions. As Jupiter reprimands him they are interrupted when the lesser deities rebel against Jupiter’s own hypocrisy. Orphée reluctantly puts his case and all the gods demand an adventure in Hades to ensure Pluton returns Eurydice.


Eurydice had expected endless infernal orgies, but instead she is locked away in the care of John Styx, who tries to forget his past with Lethe water. Eurydice is hidden when Pluton arrives with Jupiter, but Cupidon sees her next door and helps Jupiter to return as a fly. Jupiter allows himself to be caught, reveals his true identity and arranges to take her away.

Act IV

The party builds up from stately dancing to a wild gallop. Pluton prevents Jupiter from escaping with Eurydice. Cupidon suggests making Orphée’s return to earth with Eurydice conditional on him not looking back. As they leave, Jupiter throws a thunderbolt and Orphée turns. Eurydice chooses to become a bacchante. Only Opinion Publique is unhappy.

Personalities | Jacques Offenbach | High Romantic | Opera


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