Jacques Offenbach, original name Jacob Offenbach (born June 20,
1819, Cologne, Prussia [Germany]—died October 5, 1880, Paris,
France), composer who created a type of light burlesque French comic
opera known as the opérette, which became one of the most
characteristic artistic products of the period.
He was the son of a cantor at the Cologne Synagogue, Isaac Juda
Eberst, who had been born at Offenbach am Main. The father was known
as “Der Offenbacher,” and the composer was known only by his assumed
name, Offenbach. Attracted by Paris’s more tolerant attitude toward
Jews, Offenbach’s father took him there in his youth, and in 1833 he
was enrolled as a cello student at the Paris Conservatoire.
Offenbach as a young cello
drawing by Alexandre Laemlein from 1850
having been converted to Roman Catholicism, he married Herminie d’Alcain, the daughter of a Spanish Carlist. In 1849, after playing
the cello in the orchestra of the Opéra-Comique, he became conductor
at the Théâtre Français. In 1855 he opened a theatre of his own, the
Bouffes-Parisiens, which he directed until 1866 and where he gave
many of his celebrated operettas, among them Orphée aux enfers
(1858; Orpheus in the Underworld). He then produced operettas at Ems
in Germany and an opéra-ballet in Vienna, Die Rheinnixen (1864;
Rhine Spirits). Returning in 1864 to Paris, he produced at the
Variétés his successful operetta La Belle Hélène (1864). Other
successes followed, including La Vie Parisienne (1866), La
Grande-Duchesse de Gérolstein (1867), and La Périchole (1868). From
1872 to 1876 he directed the Théâtre de la Gaîté, and in 1874 he
produced there a revised version of Orphée aux enfers. Described
then as an opéra-féerique (“a fairylike opera”), this venture was a
financial failure. In 1876 he made a tour of the United States. The
remaining years of his life were devoted to composition.
His only grand opera, Les Contes d’Hoffmann (The Tales of
Hoffmann), remained unfinished at his death. It was orchestrated and
provided with recitatives by Ernest Guiraud, who also introduced the
famous barcarolle taken from Die Rheinnixen. Described as an
opéra-fantastique, it was first produced at the Opéra-Comique on
February 10, 1881. Gaîté Parisienne, a suite of Offenbach’s music
arranged by Manuel Rosenthal, remains a popular orchestral work as
well as ballet score.
Offenbach with his only son,
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.
Les contes d'Hoffmann, opéra en 5 actes.
Diana DAMRAU : Olympia, Giulietta, Antonia, Stella.
John RELYEA : Lindorf, Coppelius, Dapertutto, Miracle.
Angela BROWER : Nicklausse, Muse.
Rolando VILLAZON : Hoffmann.
Orchestre national de Bavière, direction Constantinos CARYDIS.
Opéra de Munich.
enregistrement ARTE télévision, décembre 2011.