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Orphée aux enfers (Orpheus in the Underworld)

by Jacques Offenbach (1819 - 1880). Opéra bouffon in two acts. 1858. Revised in four acts in 1874. Libretto by Hector-Jonathan Crémieux and Ludovic Halévy. First performance by the Théâtre des Bouffes-Parisiens at the Salle Choiseul, Paris, on 21st October 1858.

Orpheus in the Underworld

Public Opinion makes herself known at the outset. Eurydice, unhappily married to Orpheus, whose violin-playing she cannot stand, has a lover, the farmer Aristaeus. Orpheus has laid a trap for him by putting snakes in a cornfield, but Aristaeus lets Eurydice walk there, where she is bitten and dies. Aristaeus turns out to be Pluto, God of the Underworld, so that she is not unhappy to go with him. Orpheus, well rid of her, would be happy enough, were it not for Public Opinion, who insists that he should bring her back from Hades. On Mount Olympus, Venus, Cupid and Mars have been out for the night.

They are just home, when Diana's hunting-horn rouses them. Jupiter is displeased at their behaviour and summons Pluto, complaining of his abduction of a mortal. The gods now rebel against Jupiter's hypocrisy, and his own escapades are recalled. Public Opinion arrives, with Orpheus, and Jupiter tells Pluto to give him Eurydice back.

Pluto returns to Hades with Jupiter and the latter, in the guise suggested by Cupid of a fly, makes his way through the key-hole into the room where Eurydice is kept under guard. He suggests that they should escape together to Olympus. There is a party in Hades and Jupiter hopes to take Eurydice away with him. Cupid reminds him that Orpheus is on his way, with strait-laced Public Opinion. Cupid suggests the answer. He must allow Orpheus to take Eurydice back with him, provided he does not look round as she follows him. Orpheus does not look round until Jupiter hurls a thunderbolt and shocks him into it. He happily loses Eurydice, who becomes a priestess of Bacchus, god of wine.

Orphée aux enfers (Orpheus in the Underworld) is one of the best known of Offenbach's comic operas, particularly famous for the can-can of the spirits below, a wicked parody of Gluck's sedate Dance of the Blessed Spirits. The overture to the work that is now heard was compiled largely by Carl Binder, making use of the original Introduction, Minuet and Canon, to which he added the Can-Can and the violin solo of Orpheus, with which he troubles his wife in the first act.

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Offenbach, Jacques (1819 - 1880)

Jacques Offenbach
(1819 - 1880)

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