Published on Jan 3, 2012
Jacques Offenbach, (1819-1880) was a French 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, 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 the more tolerant attitude in Paris to the Jews, Offenbach's father took him there in his youth, and in 1833 he was enrolled as a cello student at the Paris Conservatoire.
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.
Considered the most successful composer of French operettas, Offenbach wrote more than 100 of them, the most widely recognized of which perhaps was Orphée aux enfers (1858). Others include La Belle Hélène (1864), La Vie parisienne (1866), Barbe-bleue (1866), La Grande Duchesse de Gérolstein (1867), and La Périchole (1868). His operettas were witty, fresh, and cleverly orchestrated, they were immensely popular during the Second Empire, which they often satirized.
Offenbach's one serious opera, the Tales of Hoffmann (1881), loosely based on the life of the German writer, composer, and painter E.T.A. Hoffmann, was his masterpiece. Remained unfinished at his death, it was produced posthumously, and in 1951 it was made into a motion picture combining opera and ballet.
Tales of Hoffmann
(Les Contes d'Hoffmann)
Portrays a mysterious world where human and supernatural forces meet. In a tavern, the poet Hoffmann tells of his three ill-fated romances. In the first tale, he pursues the doll Olympia until she dances him into a mechanical frenzy, and he wearily realizes that she is not human. Next, he falls passionately in love with the sickly but gifted Antonia, who is compelled by her mother's portrait to sing away her last ounce of strength. Finally, Hoffmann is drawn against his will to Giulietta, who steals his reflection for the sorcerer Dapertuto. Blind with passion, Hoffmann murders Giulietta's lover Schlemil, only to see her entice yet another man. As the last tale ends, Hoffmann, lost in a bitter haze of drink and memory, fails to notice Stella, the woman who truly loves him, as she tosses him a flower.
Tales of Hoffmann: Barcarolle
Performed by the BBC Concert Orchestra
Barry Wordsworth, Conductor