La Belle Hélène, Jacques Offenbach

Title La Belle Hélène
English Title The beautiful Helen or Fair Helen
Composer Jacques Offenbach
Librettists Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy
Language French, Dutch translation available
Genre Comic opera
First performance Théâtre des Variétés, Paris, 17 December, 1864
Time of action Greek antiquity – if not the modern age
Place of action
  1. Square before the temple of Jove, Sparta
  2. The royal palace, Sparta
  3. Nauplia, a seaside resort; a week later.
Main parts
  • Paris ,tenor
  • Menelaus, comic tenor
  • Calchas, baritone
  • Agamemnon, bass / baritone
  • Helen, (mezzo)soprano
  • Orestes (trouser rôle), (mezzo)soprano
Prominence of chorus Large

2 flutes, 1 oboe, 2 clarinets, 1 bassoon, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, 1 trombone, timpani/percussion, strings

Special demands

It is usual practice to bring topical references into the riddle-contest of the first act: this calls for some inventiveness on the part of the stage-director. The tenor singing Paris must be able to sing a high b-flat. A small stage band (playing out of tune!) is required. The singer of the Helen part should be a competent comic actress.

Full score and orchestral parts Available
Level Not really difficult.
Length 3 acts. About 2½ hours in all

One of Offenbach’s most popular works, full of wellknown numbers, such as the entrance of the heroes, the air of Paris, the waltz, a trio for men (in parody of Rossini’s William Tell) etc.


Venus has promised Paris the most beautiful woman in the world. This turns out to be Helen, who, unfortunately, is married to the king of Sparta. After many complications Paris manages to carry her off. The story abounds with comic anachronisms and is a parody of the grand theatrical manner. The Greek heroes are presented as only too human: vain, jealous, mean etc.

Costumes Quasi-Greek, with modern touches
Pictures Student choir Carmina Ludicra Nijmegen, 2016 Student choir Carmina Ludicra Nijmegen, 2016, scene from the 2nd act Student choir Carmina Ludicra Nijmegen, 2016, scene from the 3rd act
Link Wikipedia

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Tags: Offenbach | Fransen