Jacques Offenbach

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Biography

Jacques Offenbach was born Jacob Eberst in 1819, but his father, a Cologne synagogue cantor, changed the family name to Offenbach. Although of German-Jewish origins, Offenbach has come to be thought of as essentially a French composer because of his great regard for Paris.

Although admitted to the Paris Conservatory, Offenbach left and found employment as a cellist at the Opera-Comique. This was followed by a successful early career as a virtuoso on the cello, for which he wrote a number of works, including a Concerto Militaire . Offenbach was the main founder of operetta--light opera with dialogue. He continued a successful career devoted largely to it and operas comiques.

In 1855, he opened his own theatre, Les Bouffes-Parisiens where he produced one-act plays. Limited in scope by lack of space, he moved to a larger theatre where, in 1858, he presented the shockingly satirical Orpheus in the Underworld . He subsequently produced a constant stream of lively, witty and melodious operettas that became the vogue of the major capitals of the world. Much of his music is uniquely comic, and many of his numbers are composed in the style of the lively can-can dance with which the world associates him. But, there is a touch of wistful melancholy running through even the most lively of his works. In 1876 he visited the United States for the U.S. Centennial Exhibition. While there he conducted two of his comic operas, La Vie Parisienne and La Jolie Parfumeuse .

Offenbach brought the same deft touch and gift for melody to his more serious opera, The Tales of Hoffman , regarded by many as his greatest work. Based on the strange tales of the German writer E.T.A. Hoffman, the opera contains some of Offenbach's loveliest melodies. Offenbach died in Paris on October 5, 1880, but in 1881 the posthumous premiere of The Tales of Hoffman was performed.
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