Birgfeld French Opera: Orphée aux Enfers

Event Information

Grand Opera House

Proprietor / Lessee:
James, Jr. Fisk

Manager / Director:
Adolph Birgfeld

Event Type:

Record Information


Last Updated:
1 March 2019

Performance Date(s) and Time(s)

08 Feb 1869, Evening
09 Feb 1869, Evening
10 Feb 1869, Evening
11 Feb 1869, Evening
12 Feb 1869, Evening
13 Feb 1869, Matinee
13 Feb 1869, Evening

Performers and/or Works Performed

aka Orpheus in the Underworld; Orpheus in der Unterwelt; Orphee aux enfers
Composer(s): Offenbach
Text Author: Halévy, Crémieux
Participants:  Birgfeld French Opera Company;  Monsieur [tenor] Leduc (role: Aristée/Pluton);  Mlle. [soprano, French Theatre] Mathilde (role: Junon);  [tenor] Guidon (role: John Styx);  [tenor] Decrée (role: Orphée);  Mme. [soprano] Duclos (role: Diane);  Lucille [vocalist] Tostée (role: Eurydice);  Monsieur [baritone] Duchesne (role: Jupiter);  Monsieur [tenor] Lagriffoul (role: Mercure)


Advertisement: New-York Times, 03 February 1869, 7.
Advertisement: Courrier des États-Unis, 03 February 1869.
Announcement: New-York Times, 06 February 1869, 4.
Advertisement: New York Herald, 08 February 1869, 11.

Includes cast list.

Announcement: New-York Times, 08 February 1869, 5.

Orphée is the best opera bouffe ever written.

Review: New York Herald, 09 February 1869, 7.

“A large and fashionable audience was attracted to Fisk’s Grand Opera House yesterday evening by the first representation there of Jacques Offenbach’s ‘Orphée aux Enfers.’  This happy and ingenious parody on Gluck’s great serious and classical opera, ‘Orphée,’ was Offenbach’s earliest and, in some respects, best success in Paris.  It has been reproduced here at the French theatre by Jugnet & Driver’s troupe, and by Alhaiza’s New Orleans troupe, and likewise at the Stadt theatre by a German company.  But it never has been brought out in this country with so fine a mise en scene nor with a better cast than last evening.  Mlle. Tostee as Eurydice, displayed to a high degree the magnetic power which characterized her Belle Hélène.  M. Decre’s skill as a violinist enabled him, as Orphée, to delight the audience as much as his fiddle bored Eurydice.  M. Duclos, both as Pluton and as Aristée, was inimitably droll.  M. Duchesne, as Jupiter and as ‘the happiest of insects,’ nodded, thundered, and buzzed and finally communicated the fatal ‘electric kick’ that divorced Orphée from his Eurydice and transformed her into a jolly Bacchante.  M. Langriffoul personated Mercure; . . . while the rest of the company crowded the stage with gods, goddesses, followers of Diana and Minerva, peasants, guards of Olympus and demons.  The second chorus in the fifth scene of the second tableau was encored.  Mlle. Tostee and M. Duchesne shared the honors of the ‘Fly Duet’ in the third scene of the third tableau, and Mlle. Tostee fully merited the applause which she received in the ‘Banqueting Song’ of the fourth tableau.  The dancing in the third tableau was very amusing, and the funny ‘choregraphic irregularity’ with which the opera ended, amidst a blaze of fireworks, almost rekindled the old enthusiasm for opera bouffe—an enthusiasm which it must be admitted, did not burn too ardently during the greater part of the performance.”

Review: New York Post, 09 February 1869.

“A German and two French companies have already given in this city performances of Offenbach’s earlier opera, ‘Orphee aux Enfers,’ and much of the music has been familiarized to the public ear by means of the theatrical and ballroom orchestras.  Last night, however, was the first time that the opera has been heard here in really good style.  It was performed at the Grand Opera by the Birgfeld company to a full audience, who found in the libretto the following synopsis of the plot . . . . 

“Tostee counts Eurydice as one of her most prominent successes, and certainly her voice last night sounded to unusual advantage in the music of the part.  Her higher notes are clearer and fuller than ever before.  It is said she has lately submitted to an operation of the throat, and whether it is owing to this or not, there is no doubt that her voice has much improved since she last sung here.  She was well supported in the soprano music last night by Mlle. Duclos, while one or two of the lady choristers who attempted solo passages were so frightened at the sound of their own voices as to be almost inaudible.

“Of the male performers, Duchesne as Jupiter—a pompous shabby-genteel sort of a Jupiter—was the best.  In the garb of a fly he was immensely funny, imitating the motions of the insect with grotesque humor.  M. Guidon also makes a great deal out of the minor part of John Styx, giving a character sketch that belongs to the same category as the Pitou of Gabel.  He sang his ballad ‘The Kong of Boetia,’ so well last night that he was called forth with acclamations by the audience, who were somewhat surprised to see the compliment acknowledged by Tostee.  This lady is accustomed to applause, but on this special occasion the noisy approbation was meant for M. Guidon.

"Leduc made an elegant and gentlemanly Pluto and Langriffoul a light tripping Mercury.  The features of classic mythology are easy to caricature, and very droll when so treated; ‘Orphee aux Enfers,’ therefore, created considerable amusement last night, although the music is not as showy as that of the composer’s later operas.  It is creditably put on the stage as regards costumes but the only scenic effect worth mentioning is the pyrotechnic display at the close of the piece.”

Review: New York Sun, 09 February 1869, 1.

“After all, abuse Offenbach as we may, it must be confessed that he is the king of all the tribe of writers of opera bouffe.  His genius is more ready, his wit more brilliant, his talent more varied.  One gets tired of him after a while, and longs for a change; the change comes; some other composer is put on trial, and then, when we in turn get tired of the substitute, and Offenbach is restored to his own, every one at once confesses that his reign is a pleasanter one, and his music more sparkling and spontaneous.  The Orpheus given last evening at the Twenty-third street Opera House we regard as one of the brightest of his many works.  The plot of it is wittily conceived.  It is the broadest possible burlesque on the Greek mythology. The subject is one that gives the amplest field to the imagination of the librettist, as well as to that of the composer, and they have worked together in the matter to excellent purpose. Jupiter, Juno, Venus, and others of the Die [Treasores?] make up the cast. The scene is laid in the three great divisions of space. One act on earth, another in Olympus, and the last in the infernal regions. And yet there is nothing in the piece that is really irreverent, and nothing, we are glad to add, that need greatly shock the most fastidious.  The scissors have been used to excellent effect upon the original version, and have left nothing that, as Podsnap would say, ‘Should cause a blush to mantle upon the cheek of ingenuous youth.”  The dramatic interest of the opera is excellently sustained throughout.  It is well cast also.  The principal roles are in the hands of those artists who made the ‘Grand Duchess’ such an eminent success—Tostee, Leduc, Duchesne, and Lagriffoul.  Mr. Leduc’s Pluto is worthy of special praise.  He has a quiet, easy way of making his points that is very telling with the audience.  If there is such a thing as finessing in acting that is what he does.  There is nothing obtrusive in it on the one hand, and on the other every slightest action is full of grotesque fun. The general merit of the piece will probably ensure it a long and successful run.”

Review: New-York Daily Tribune, 09 February 1869, 4.

“A change of bill last night at Fisk’s Opera House enabled the devotees of the music of short skirts to renew their acquaintance with a composition of Offenbach’s which has been played in New-York before, but never under such circumstances as to warrant its success. It has been considerably modified since the New-Orleans troupe, of which Mdlle. Lambelé was the guiding star, played it last Winter at the French Theater. It has grown a little more sober as it has grown older, and has learned to exercise a little wholesome self-restraint, though it is not yet a model of propriety. The libretto has been freely cut—a good deal more freely in fact than the spoken dialogue—and the action is generally kept within bounds. Tostée makes a piquant and comical Eurydice, singing her little songs as well as her little voice will permit, and lavishing her peculiar humor upon the by-play in a fashion which provokes almost continual merriment. M. Decré, who, as a judicious critic well remarks, can fiddle like an angel, seems destined by nature and education for the part of Orphée, in which, after all, there is little [to] do but to wear a preposterous wig and scrape a tune, both of which he does very well. M. Duchesne as Jupiter, and M. Leduc as Pluton, made by far the most of the fun, the former gentleman displaying an unctuous quality of humor of which we hardly thought him capable, and M. Leduc being thoroughly admirable, as he always is. M. Guidon as John Styx, made a decided hit with the famous Quand j’etais roi, and M. Lagriffoul did all that it was possible to do with the trifling role of Mercury. Of the minor female characters there is little to be said except that two or three of them were heartily hissed. The piece was very well mounted, the scenery good, and the stage business carefully arranged; but the chorus was a marvel or physical ugliness and musical depravity, and went as far as any chorus could go toward disgusting mankind with the spectacle of half draped forms. So much the better; keep that chorus and cut the text, and opera bouffe will be as harmless as Mother Goose.”

Announcement: New-York Times, 12 February 1869, 8.
Announcement: New York Clipper, 13 February 1869, 358, 2d col., bottom.
Advertisement: New York Clipper, 13 February 1869, 359.
Review: New York Clipper, 20 February 1869, 366, 2nd col., middle.

“’Orphee aux Enfers’ was produced at the Grand Opera House on the 8th inst., on which occasion Mlle. Tostee made her reappearance after a long absence, having fuly [sic] recovered from her late accident. She appeared as Eurydice, and the reception that greeted her was very enthusiastic. M. Ducre, the Orpheus, was loudly applauded for his solo on the violin. Mr. Duchesne was excellent as Jupiter. The young lady that played Cupid did not appear to come up to the requirements of the role, for her attempted singing was rewarded by a round of hisses, which was very warm, when a lot of clacquers attempted to drown the disapprobation with applause. The chorus at the end of the second act (‘Stop that Knocking’) was encored, when the curtain was raised and the procession countermarched and sang. The attendance was not great, and throughout the week ‘Orphee’ was given to light business.”