Orphée aux Enfers, Jacques Offenbach

Title Orphée aux Enfers
English Title Orpheus in the Underworld
Composer Jacques Offenbach
Librettists Hector Crémieux and Ludovic Halévy
Language French, Dutch translation available
Genre Opéra-bouffe, comic opera (four acts)
First performance 21 October, 1858, Théâtre des Bouffes-Parisiens, Paris
Time of action Greek antiquity
Place of action
  1. On earth (landscape near Thebes)
  2. In heaven (on Mount Olympus)
  3. A room in the underworld
  4. A hall in the underworld
Main parts
  • Public opinion, contralto or mezzo-soprano
  • Eurydice, soprano
  • Orpheus, tenor
  • Aristaeus, alias Pluto, tenor
  • Jupiter, baritone
  • Diana, soprano
  • Cupid, soprano
  • John Styx, baritone or tenor
Prominence of chorus Large
Orchestra 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, timpani/percussion, strings
Special demands

Eurydice should preferably be a coloratura-soprano. Pluto (tenor) has a song with falsetto notes but these are optional. In the finale of act two a brass-band may come marching in, but this too is optional. Cuts are unavoidable, as the opera is rather long.

Full score and orchestral parts Available
Level Not difficult
Length 4 acts, at least 2½ hours in all (but see also Special demands, above).

Orphée aux Enfers (1858) is the first full-length operetta ever written. The chorus has lots to do. The work contains many wellknown numbers, e.g. a duet for soprano and violin, the buzzing-duet of Eurydice and Jupiter (the latter disguised as a fly), Eurydice’s dying song, and of course the ever popular cancan. In fact, the opera is a parody of opera seria; music from Gluck’s Orphée is literally quoted.


The plot is based on the myth of Orpheus being permitted to retrieve his deceased wife Eurydice from Hades on condition that on the way back he shall not turn round and look at her; in the myth Orpheus’ love proves too strong: he does turn round and loses her forever. In Jacques Offenbach’s version Orpheus and Eurydice are unhappily married. Orpheus is overjoyed when he finds out that Pluto has carried off his wife to the underworld. However, under pressure of Public Opinion, represented as an allegoric figure, he decides to implore the gods to restore her to him. The gods on Mount Olympus are bored stiff with everlasting bliss and beg Jupiter to take them on an outing to the underworld. Jupiter agrees to do so, thus suppressing a rebellion against his reign. In Hades the gods have a wonderful time, quaffing wine instead of nectar and dancing the cancan (a wild dance, popular in Offenbach’s time). In the mean time, Jupiter (disguised as a fly) tries to seduce Eurydice. In the end, Eurydice is turned into a bacchante and presented to the god of wine, more or less to everybody’s satisfaction.

Costumes Costumes should look Greek, but there is ample room for fantasy in head-gear, wigs, accessories, props etc.

The work is full of deliberate anachronisms and allusions to topics of Offenbach’s days. Topical jokes in connection with the present day have become common practice in modern performances.

Pictures Odeon Alkmaar 2010 - fragment 1st act Odeon Alkmaar 2010 - 2nd act, on mount Olymp Odeon Alkmaar 2010 - 3rd act: in the Underworld
Link Wikipedia

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