Personalities | Jacques Offenbach | Late Romantic | Classical

(Zhak Of’-fen-bakh) 1819–80
French composer

Offenbach’s tuneful, witty and often outrageous satires on Greek mythology and the Second Empire enthralled the French public, including the Emperor Louis-Napoleon. After only one year at the Paris Conservatoire, he joined the Opéra-Comique orchestra, studying with Halévy, and toured as a virtuoso cellist. After conducting at the Théâtre Français, he launched his famous Bouffes-Parisien in 1855, scoring huge successes with some 100 operettas produced in collaboration with his chief librettist, Ludovic Halévy (nephew of the composer and librettist for Bizet’s Carmen), and the singer/actress Hortense Schneider. In hits such as Orphée aux enfers (‘Orpheus in the Underworld’, 1858), with its daring ‘Can-Can’ in the final scene, La belle Hélène (1864), and La vie parisienne (1866), memorable tunes are interspersed with piquant musical parodies of great composers such as Christoph Willibald von Gluck (1714–87), Meyerbeer or Rossini. Offenbach’s enduring operatic masterpiece is Les contes d’Hoffmann (‘The Tales of Hoffmann’, completed after his death by Guiraud, 1881), with its famous ‘Barcarolle’.

Recommended Recording:
Les contes d’Hoffmann, soloists, Orchestre de la Suisse Romande (cond) Richard Bonynge (Decca)

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