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Donald Macleod explores the life and music of the maestro of the cancan and much more besides, Jacques Offenbach. Today, with A-team librettists Meilhac and Halévy, he’s on a roll.

Donald Macleod explores the life and music of the maestro of the cancan and much more besides, Jacques Offenbach. Today, with A-team librettists Meilhac and Halévy, he’s on a roll.

According to legend, Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy met on the steps of the Théâtre de la Variété in Paris sometime during the course of 1860. Halévy had been commissioned to write a comedy for the Variété and his partner had just quit on him. He was desperate, the chemistry with Meilhac felt right, and he offered his new best friend the job on the spot. Several librettos later, in 1862, came the opportunity for the duo to work with the already hugely successful Offenbach on an operetta called La baguette, of which no performance is recorded – perhaps it turned out to be half-baked. Le brésilien followed the year after, then in 1864 came La belle Hélène, the new triumvirate’s first gold-plated hit. After which were Barbe-bleue, La vie parisienne, La Grande-Duchesse de Gérolstein, Le château à Toto, La Périchole, Vert-vert, La diva, Les brigands and, in 1875, La boulangère à des écus – at which point it became clear that the collaboration had effectively run out of steam. As Halévy noted in his diary, “Offenbach, Meilhac and myself, we couldn’t do it anymore. We are no longer twenty or even forty. Daring and fantasy go together with youth. We no longer have the boldness of inexperience.” That said, 1875 was also the year in which the curtain rose on a new operatic alliance, between Meilhac, Halévy and a struggling young composer called Georges Bizet. The opera in question? Carmen.

Barbe-bleue (Act 1, Couplets de Boulotte: “Y’a des bergers dans le village”)
Lina Dachary, soprano (Boulotte)
Orchestre Lyrique de l'O.R.T.F.
Jean Doussard, conductor

La belle Hélène (Act 2 No 15, Duo – “C’est le ciel que m’envoie”)
Jessye Norman, soprano (Helen)
John Aler, tenor (Paris)
Orchestre du Capitole de Toulouse
Michel Plasson, conductor

La vie Parisienne (Act 3, finale: ‘Soupons, soupons, c’est le moment’)
Luis Masson (Le Baron)
Éliane Lublin (Pauline)
Jean-Christophe Benoit (Prosper)
Danièle Castaings (Clara)
Michel Trempont (Bobinet)
Françoise Gayral (Léonie)
Michel Jarry (Urbain)
Mady Mesplé (Gabrielle)
Marie-Thérèse Téchene (Louise)
Orchestre et Choeurs du Capitole de Toulouse
Michel Plasson, conductor

La Grande-Duchesse de Gérolstein (Act I, finale)
Felicity Lott (La Grand Duchesse)
Eric Huchet (Le Prince Paul)
François Le Roux (Le Général Boum)
Franck Leguérinel (Le Baron Puck)
Sandrine Piau (Wanda)
Yann Beuron (Fritz)
Maryline Fallot, Blandine Staskiewicz, Jennifer Tani, Aurélia Legay (Demoiselles d’honneur)
Choeur des Musiciens du Louvre
Les Musiciens du Louvre
Marc Minkowski, conductor

La Périchole (Act 1 No 7, The letter – “O mon cher amant, je te jure”)
Teresa Bergana, mezzo soprano (La Périchole)
Orchestre du Capitole de Toulouse
Michel Plasson, conductor

La Perichole (Act 3 scene 2, no 21 – Entr’acte, chorus of soldiers and waltz-arietta of the three cousins)
Bernd Könnes, tenor (Panatella)
Marcus Günzel, baritone (Don Pedro)
Jessica Glatte, soprano (Guadalena)
Elke Kottmair, soprano (Berginella)
Tanjo Höft, mezzo soprano (Mastrilla)
Chor der Staatsoperette Dresden
Orchester der Staatsoperette Dresden
Ernst Theis, conductor

La boulangerie à des écus (‘Ce qu’ j’ai?’)
Cassandre Berthon, soprano (Toinon)
London Philharmonic Orchestra
David Parry, conductor

Produced by Chris Barstow for BBC Wales

59 minutes

Music Played

  • Jacques Offenbach

    Barbe-bleue: Act 1 (extract)

    Singer: Lina Dachary. Orchestra: Orchestre Lyrique De L'O.R.T.F. Conductor: Jean Doussard.
    • OPERA D'ORO OPD1211.
    • OPERA D'ORO OPD1211.
    • 3.
  • Jacques Offenbach

    La belle Hélène: Act 2 No 15

    Performer: Orchestre du Capitole de Toulouse. Singer: Jessye Norman. Singer: John Aler. Conductor: Michel Plasson.
    • WARNER 3951082.
    • WARNER 3951082.
    • 3.
  • Jacques Offenbach

    La vie parisienne: Act 3 (finale)

    Performer: Éliane Lublin. Performer: Jean-Christophe Benoît. Performer: Danièle Castaing. Performer: Françoise Gayral. Performer: Michel Jarry. Performer: Marie-Thérèse Téchene. Performer: Orchestre national du Capitole de Toulouse. Singer: Luis Masson. Singer: Michel Trempont. Singer: Mady Mesplé. Conductor: Michel Plasson.
    • EMI FRANCE 1141238.
    • EMI FRANCE 1141238.
    • 6.
  • Jacques Offenbach

    La Grande-Duchesse de Gérolstein: Act I (finale)

    Performer: Maryline Fallot. Performer: Blandine Staskiewicz. Performer: Jennifer Tani. Performer: Choeur des Musiciens du Louvre. Singer: Felicity Lott. Singer: Eric Huchet. Singer: François Le Roux. Singer: Franck Leguérinel. Singer: Sandrine Piau. Singer: Yann Beuron. Singer: Aurélia Legay. Ensemble: Les Musiciens du Louvre. Conductor: Marc Minkowski.
    • VIRGIN 5 45734 2.
    • VIRGIN 5 45734 2.
    • 21.
  • Jacques Offenbach

    La Périchole: Act 1 No 7, 'The letter'

    Performer: Orchestre du Capitole de Toulouse. Singer: Teresa Bergana. Conductor: Michel Plasson.
    • EMI 1730938.
    • EMI 1730938.
    • 9.
  • Jacques Offenbach

    La Périchole: Act 3 scene 2 (extract)

    Performer: Orchester Und Chor Der Staatsoperette Dresden. Singer: Bernd Könnes. Singer: Marcus Günzel. Singer: Jessica Glatte. Singer: Elke Kottmair. Singer: Tanjo Höft. Conductor: Ernst Theis.
    • CPO 777 493-2.
    • CPO 777 493-2.
    • 16.
  • Jacques Offenbach

    La boulangerie à des écus ('Ce qu' j'ai?')

    Performer: Cassandre Berthon. Orchestra: London Philharmonic Orchestra. Conductor: David Parry.
    • OPERA RARA ORR243.
    • OPERA RARA.
    • 8.

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