Jacques Offenbach


Born in Cologne in 1819, Offenbach was the seventh of ten children. His family moved to Paris in 1833 where he studied cello at the Conservatoire. He joined the orchestra of the Opéra-Comique in 1837, surviving as a virtuoso performer throughout the 1840s. During this time, however, he failed to realise his greater ambition as a composer and find a stage for his work. After five years as the conductor at the Théâtre Francais, Offenbach’s fortunes turned in 1855 when, during the World Exhibition in Paris, he hired the Théâtre Marigny in the Champs-Elysees, renamed it the Bouffes-Parisiens, and put on a successful season of operettas into which he inserted some of his own works, including Les deux aveugles and Le violoneux. In 1858, he triumphed with his first full-length operetta, Orphee aux enfers, launching the cancan on an unsuspecting world, and making him famous in France. In 1861 he gave up directing the Bouffes-Parisiens and settled into a period that produced a string of successes: La vie parisienne (1866), La belle Helene (1864), Barbe-Bleue (1866), La Grande-Duchesse de Gerolstein (1867) and La Périchole (1868). It was during this time that he composed Robinson Crusoe (Opera Rara ORC7), an opera comique, with the role of Man Friday written for the young mezzo Celestine Galli-Marie, who later became Bizet’s first Carmen.