Orpheus in the Underworld

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Orphée aux enfers (Orpheus in the Underworld) is an opéra bouffon (a form of operetta), or opéra féerie in its revised version, by Jacques Offenbach. The French text was written by Ludovic Halévy and later revised by Hector-Jonathan Crémieux.

The work, first performed in 1858, is said to be the first classical full-length operetta.[1][2] Offenbach's earlier operettas were small-scale one-act works, since the law in France did not allow certain genres of full-length works. Orpheus was not only longer, but more musically adventurous than Offenbach's earlier pieces.[3]

This also marked the first time that Offenbach used Greek mythology as a backdrop for one of his buffooneries. The operetta is an irreverent parody and scathing satire on Gluck and his Orfeo ed Euridice and culminates in the risqué galop infernal ("Infernal Galop") that shocked some in the audience at the premiere. Other targets of satire, as would become typical in Offenbach's burlesques, are the stilted performances of classical drama at the Comédie Française and the scandals in society and politics of the Second French Empire.

The Infernal Galop from Act II, Scene 2, is famous outside classical circles as the music for the "Can-can" (to the extent that the tune is widely, but erroneously, called "Can-can") . Saint-Saëns borrowed the Galop, slowed it to a crawl, and arranged it for the strings to represent the tortoise in The Carnival of the Animals.

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Performance history

The first performance of the two-act, opéra bouffe version took place at the Théâtre des Bouffes Parisiens in Paris on 21 October 1858 and ran for an initial 228 performances. It then returned to the stage a few weeks later, after the cast had had a rest. For the Vienna production of 1860, Carl Binder provided an overture that became famous, beginning with its bristling fanfare, followed by a tender love song, a dramatic passage, a complex waltz, and, finally, the renowned Can-can music.[citation needed]

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