Article on operetta

Event Information

Pike's Opera House

Event Type:

Record Information


Last Updated:
4 May 2019

Performance Date(s) and Time(s)

09 Nov 1868

Performers and/or Works Performed

Composer(s): Offenbach
Text Author: Halévy, Meilhac
aka Blue Beard; Bluebeard
Composer(s): Offenbach
Text Author: Halévy, Meilhac
aka Genevieve de Brabant; Geneviève of Brabant; Genevieve of Brabant; Genevieve d'Brabant
Composer(s): Offenbach
Text Author: Jaime, Etienne (Victor)
aka Belle Helene, La; Schöne Helena, La; Schone Helena, La
Composer(s): Offenbach
Text Author: Halévy, Meilhac


Article: Courrier des États-Unis, 09 November 1868.

“ . . . . As you see, our pleasures are varied: La Grande Duchesse, music by J. Offenbach; La Belle Hélène, music by J. Offenbach; Barbe Bleue, music by J. Offenbach; Geneviève de Brabant, music by . . . always the eel pâté! Does it astonish you, then, if one fine day, alas for Offenbach and the eel pâté, you’d give your seat in paradise for a garlic sausage and some potatoes. . . with oil.

“Without being peevish and altogether appreciating Offenbach, I’d prefer to be able to nibble on some melodies of Auber or Adam.

“Is that impossible, and today’s singers have only one specialty?

“Is operetta, bastard product born of the bad literary taste of our era, going to take the high road forever and, like a veritable Procrustean bed, reduce our authors, our poets, our composers to its puny size? . . . .

“I’ve let myself be carried away by the digression, but not as much as you would believe, for it’s on this literary slope that wit, in rolling down[hill], has caught on to operetta.

“”To fashion a good operetta, take the opposite of good sense, write a parody of a parody in bad verses, misrepresent heroes, or rather produce senseless anachronisms; grind up artless legend and current event, the result of it will be a mixture of poor quality, an operetta-bouffe, a féerie, an absurdity, pretext for scenery, costumes, exhibitions of legs more or less well-formed by the grace of nature and cotton. As for style, you recognize it; scraps of dialogue and musical reminiscences, old words and new velvet; one passes off as the other. These authors truly don’t have any vitality at all. They happen to conceive or rather to catch a glimpse of a plan, but lack the strength to realize it. It’s easy to convince yourself: generally in all these operettas the first act is full of promises, then everything is put out of joint, the roles don’t have legs, the characters aren’t delineated, the action is diluted, breaks up, in brief, deteriorates completely . . . .

Desinit in piscem . . . . [It ends in a fish tail—Horace, Ars poetica, quoted in Montaigne, Essays, Ch. XXVI]

Thus, between two rival enterprises, the chronicle doesn’t take the part of one camp or another; it doesn’t want any more to weigh on the judgment of the public which is intelligent enough to establish for itself without our indicating [things]. The proof is that every evening I hear in one or the other theater estimations that confirm my personal impressions entirely.

“But without bruising any legitimate self-respect by parallels which always leave some illusions on the floor, one can say that at Pike’s Opera the chorus (including the chorus-singers) is as thin . . . as Menelaus’s legs. And what a collection of ugly women, with the exception of two or three . . . at most! They would have chosen them only if they couldn’t do any better. At the Théâtre Francais, on the contrary, there’s a squadron, a crowded battalion of the prettiest looks, finest figures, flourishing charms. Some are beautiful, others altogether simply pretty (which is worth more for certain fashionable rakes), and all worthy, stylish, frisky, with a glow in their eyes and electricity in their legs. We won’t name anyone in order not to scare away the well-known modesty of these ladies.

“It’s Juignet who recruited them in Paris. In the sixteenth century he would have been the famous commander of the pirate galley:

                                    We’re going from Fez to Catania . . .

                                    We’re recruiting for the harem

                                    In all the convents along the seashore . . . .

                                    [Nous allions de Fez à Catanie . . .

                                    Nous recrutons pour le serial

                                    Sur {Dans, in the original} tous les moûtiers du ravage . . .

                                    --Victor Hugo, Chanson de pirates]

“In our prosaic century, they don’t carry off pretty girls any more for the pleasure of pashas; they enroll them in the service of Offenbach. Again, we owe this scenery, these costumes and these remarkable accessories—perhaps not noticed enough—which are the corollary of success, to Juignet. M. Grau has put large resources at his disposal, he knew how to get the most out of them. That’s his merit and his part in the winning of the battle, for this time the victory isn’t in doubt. Not only was he determined [to make] Mmes Rose Bell, Desclauzas, Fontanel; MMs Carrier, Beckers, and Goby, and Génot to cross the Atlantic, but also he knew how to carry Gabel away from the Parisians; that is a master stroke. . .”