Home / Works / Belle Hélène, La (Meilhac & L. Halévy / Offenbach)

Print content of page

Belle Hélène, La (Meilhac & L. Halévy / Offenbach)




Opéra bouffe in 3 acts, premiered on 17 December 1864 at the Théâtre des Variétés in Paris.


The decree of 6 January 1864 having abolished the special privileges enjoyed by the main Parisian theatres and Offenbach having recently left the directorship of the Bouffes-Parisiens, the composer decided to turn once more to the formula that had proved successful for Orphée aux enfers (1858). Thus he embarked on a collaboration with the famous librettists Meilhac and Halévy, with whom he was to produce another thirteen works, including his greatest successes, La Vie parisienne, La Grande Duchesse de Gérolstein and La Périchole. Returning to classical mythology, La Belle Hélène parodies the famous story of the abduction of Helen of Troy by Paris. The authors applied their skills to revising the facts and situations, introducing anachronisms and multiplying critical allusions to Second Empire society. Using a mixture of the poetic and the prosaic, the music and the lyrics are used to delightfully humorous effect; they are often at odds with each other – one of the essential features of parody. The pastiche of ancient styles, the incongruity of certain musical numbers, e.g. the famous piece including Tyrolean yodelling, or the exaggerated musical absurdity of the “Couplets des rois”, in which the syllables are chopped up to suit the metre of the march: all of these show how different musical processes can be used to create comedy. The score as a whole is based on very inspired melodic writing, brilliant orchestration and demanding vocal parts, particularly the title role, which is graced with the most delightful acrobatics. Despite stormy rehearsals and low budgets for sets and costumes, La Belle Hélène was a great success on its first night, ushering in the era of the “Offenbachiades”, when not a day passed without one or other of the composer’s works being given in Paris.

    Images - 17
  • Alexandre Guyon dans La Belle Hélène d'Offenbach
  • Anna Judic en Belle Hélène
  • Gauthiers en Ménélas (La Belle Hélène d'Offenbach)
  • Hortense Schneider en Belle Hélène
  • Hortense Schneider en Belle Hélène (acte I)
  • José Dupuis en Pâris (La Belle Hélène d'Offenbach)
  • Display more
    Persons - 3
  • HALÉVY, Ludovic (1834-1908)
  • MEILHAC, Henri (1831-1897)
  • OFFENBACH, Jacques (1819-1880)
  • Themes - 2
  • Genre – Chanson et opérette sous le Second Empire
  • Lieux de musique – Théâtre des Variétés