Main content
Sorry, this episode is not currently available

The Mozart of the Champs-Elysées

Donald Macleod explores the life and music of the maestro of the Cancan and much more besides, Jacques Offenbach. Today, on the brink of defeat, he launches his own theatre company.

Donald Macleod explores the life and music of the maestro of the Cancan and much more besides, Jacques Offenbach. Today, on the brink of defeat he launches his own theatre company.

In May 1854, Offenbach wrote despairingly to his sister Ranetta; the “golden future” he had dreamt of hadn’t materialised, and come September he’d be off to America, without his family, to seek his fortune there. Offenbach did indeed make the hazardous journey across the Atlantic, but that wouldn’t be for another 20 years or so. For now, he decided to stay put and tough it out in his adopted home city of Paris, where his father had deposited him, with his elder brother Julius, 20 years earlier, in the hope that there they would receive a better musical education than was on offer in their native Cologne. It was a good decision; eight months after he wrote that letter to his sister, Offenbach put in an application to the Minister of State for the Fine Arts to open his own theatre, for the presentation of musical shows; the entertainment was to be known as ‘Les Bouffes-Parisiens’. The venue was a tiny wooden shack on the Champs-Elysées that had recently been vacated by its previous owner, a magician called Lacaze. With the backing of a wealthy newspaper-owning friend – the founder of Le Figaro, no less – Offenbach had the ‘Salle Lacaze’, which became known as ‘the ladder’, on account of the steep rake of the seats, refurbished and open for business again in July 1855. This was just in time to capitalise on its fortunate proximity to the site of the Exposition Universelle, modelled on – and intended to surpass – the Great Exhibition which had been held in London four years earlier. The Bouffes was an instant and enduring success; over the next quarter-century, more than 50 of Offenbach’s musical comedies were to début there, including the opening-night smash Les deux aveugles, a one-acter about a couple of con-men vying for the best spot on a bridge over the Seine, and Orphée aux enfers, Orpheus in the Underworld, a runaway success in 1858, whose “profanation of holy and glorious antiquity” was held by one critic at the time to herald the end of civilisation as it was then known.

Orphée aux enfers (Act 2 tableau 4, ‘Ce bal est original’)
Jean-Paul Fouchécourt, tenor (Pluton)
Laurent Naouri, bass baritone (Jupiter)
Véronique Gens, soprano (Venus)
Natalie Dessay, soprano (Eurydice)
Chorus and orchestra of Lyon Opera
Mark Minkowski, conductor

Les deux aveugles (Overture)
The Academy of St Martin-in-the-Fields
Neville Marriner, conductor

Le financier et le savetier (scene 8, extract: “J’ai-z-un million!”)
Eric Huchet, tenor (Larfaillou)
Frédéric Bialecki, baritone (premier invité)
Franck Thézan, tenor (Belazor)
Orchestre Pasdeloup
Jean-Christophe Keck, conductor

Orphée aux enfers (Act 1 tableau 2, opening: Entr’acte et choeur du sommeil – Les heures – “Par Saturne! Quell est ce bruit!”)
Patricia Petibon, soprano (Cupidon)
Véronique Gens, soprano (Vénus)
Laurent Naouri, bass baritone (Jupiter)
Jennifer Smith, soprano (Diane)
Chorus and orchestra of Lyon Opera
Mark Minkowski, conductor

Orphée aux enfers (Act 1 tableau 2, conclusion: “Il approche! Il s’avance!” – “Gloire! gloire à Jupiter”)
Lydie Pruvot, soprano (Junon)
Jean-Paul Fouchécourt, tenor (Pluton)
Yann Beuron, tenor (Orphée)
Ewa Podleś, mezzo soprano (L'Opinion Publique)
Jennifer Smith, soprano (Diane)
Laurent Naouri, bass baritone (Jupiter)
Véronique Gens, soprano (Vénus)
Patricia Petibon, soprano (Cupidon)
Etienne Lescroart, tenor (Mercure)
Virginie Pochon, soprano (Minerve)
Chorus and orchestra of Lyon Opera
Mark Minkowski, conductor

Le Carnaval des revues (Symphonie de l'avenir – March des fiancés)
Laurent Naouri, bass baritone (Le compositeur de l’avenir)
Marc Minkowski, conductor

Monsieur Choufleuri restera chez lui le … (No 6, Trio Italien)
Mady Mesplé, soprano (Ernestine)
Emmy Greger, mezzo soprano (Mme Balandard)
Michel Hamel, tenor (Balandard)
Michel Trempont, baritone (Petermann)
Charles Burles, tenor (Chrysodule Babylas)
Jean-Philippe Lafont, baritone (Monsieur Choufleuri)
Ensemble Choral Jean Laforge
Orchestre Philharmonique de Monte-Carlo
Manuel Rosenthal, conductor

Produced by Chris Barstow for BBC Wales

59 minutes

Last on

Mon 17 Jun 2019 12:00

Music Played

  • Jacques Offenbach

    Orphée aux enfers: Act 2 tableau 4, 'Ce bal est original'

    Performer: Chorus And Orchestra Of L'Opera De Lyon. Singer: Jean-Paul Fouchécourt. Singer: Laurent Naouri. Singer: Véronique Gens. Singer: Natalie Dessay. Conductor: Mark Minkowski.
    • WARNER 9482332.
    • WARNER.
    • 17.
  • Jacques Offenbach

    Les deux aveugles (Overture)

    Choir: Academy of St. Martin in the Fields Chorus. Conductor: Neville Marriner.
    • PHILIPS 411 476-2.
    • PHILIPS.
    • 6.
  • Jacques Offenbach

    Le financier et le savetier: Scene 8 (extract)

    Singer: Eric Huchet. Singer: Frédéric Bialecki. Singer: Franck Thézan. Orchestra: Orchestre Pasdeloup. Conductor: Jean-Christophe Keck.
    • ACCORD 442 8964.
    • ACCORD.
    • 9.
  • Jacques Offenbach

    Orphée aux enfers: Act 1 tableau 2 (opening)

    Performer: Chorus And Orchestra Of L'Opera De Lyon. Singer: Véronique Gens. Singer: Laurent Naouri. Singer: Jennifer Smith. Conductor: Mark Minkowski. Singer: Lydie Pruvot. Singer: Jean-Paul Fouchécourt. Singer: Yann Beuron. Singer: Ewa Podleś. Singer: Patricia Petibon. Singer: Étienne Lescroart. Singer: Virginie Pochon.
    • WARNER 9482332.
    • WARNER.
    • 31.
  • Jacques Offenbach

    Orphée aux enfers: Act 1 tableau 2 (conclusion)

    Performer: Chorus And Orchestra Of L'Opera De Lyon. Singer: Véronique Gens. Singer: Lydie Pruvot. Singer: Jean-Paul Fouchécourt. Singer: Yann Beuron. Conductor: Mark Minkowski. Singer: Ewa Podleś. Singer: Patricia Petibon. Singer: Étienne Lescroart. Singer: Virginie Pochon. Singer: Laurent Naouri. Singer: Jennifer Smith.
    • WARNER 9482332.
    • WARNER.
    • 31.
  • Jacques Offenbach

    Le carnaval des revues (extract)

    Performer: Laurent Naouri. Conductor: Marc Minkowski.
  • Jacques Offenbach

    Monsieur Choufleuri restera chez lui (No 6, Trio Italien)

    Performer: Ensemble Choral Jean Laforge. Performer: Monte-Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra. Singer: Mady Mesplé. Singer: Emmy Greger. Singer: Michel Hamel. Singer: Michel Trempont. Singer: Charles Burles. Singer: Jean‐Philippe Lafont. Conductor: Manuel Rosenthal.
    • WARNER 3952972.
    • WARNER 3952972.
    • 28.

Broadcast

Composers A to Z

Composers A to Z

Visit the extensive audio archive of Radio 3 programmes about Composers and their works.

Who knew? Five eye-opening stories from Composer of the Week

Who knew? Five eye-opening stories from Composer of the Week

The production team reflects on 5 of Donald Macleod’s best stories from the last 20 years

A man out of time – why Parry's music and ideas were at odds with his image...

A man out of time – why Parry's music and ideas were at odds with his image...

The composer of Jerusalem was very far from the conservative figure his image suggests.

Five reasons why we love Parry's Jerusalem

Five reasons why we love Parry's Jerusalem

What is the strange power of Jerusalem which makes strong men weep?

Composer Help Page

Composer Help Page

Find resources and contacts for composers from within the classical music industry.