Offenbachiad Notebook | Notes for W&L production of Mr Choufleuri | April-May 2014
Those who want more info on our production - opening tonight! - should visit Opera Roanoke's page here.
Below are the unedited notes I've kept while preparing for this fantastically fun production of Offenbach, done in the spirit of the salons of his time, which means it's replete with famous guests like Berlioz, Baudelaire, Manet ("or is it Monet?"). Offenbach's favorite eccentric (= crowd pleaser) actor, Bache, joins "that wicked George Sand," among other cultural dignitaries. We insert music by composers the habitués would have expected to encounter at the finest salons (and we hear Offenbach parodying the very "ballad" style he took full advantage of - 19th century Paris is one of the most fascinating periods or places in Western History!)
I usually share my program notes, but those will be printed in the program: come to the show and read them. As some of my colleagues have expressed interest in my library, I share a window below. This "miscellany" is intended to be educational - if not interesting - on a period or genre with which not only our students, but many of our friends might not be well-acquainted. I share my notes as a classic writer's "notebook." That is to say, it is part essay, part diary, part margin notes, part sourcebook. It may often be convoluted, eccentric (= personal), full of musings, quotes, etc.
This is one of the ways this artist attempts to serve genius, honor the gods and use whatever odd talents he found dropped like crumbs from the table. And these days, seems there's never enough time to do all of what one loves...
Offenbach library (subjective):
Siegfried Kracauer: Jacques Offenbach & the Paris of His Time
Alistair Horne: The Seven Ages of Paris
Essays/Liner notes on La Belle Hélène, Fortunio (A. Messager – Offenbach’s successor),
Tales of Hoffmann, Offenbach Arias (von Otter), Orphée aux enfer
Walter Benjamin: Sel. Writings, The Arcades Project, Baudelaire: The Writer of Modern Life
Quotes, notes, miscellany:
Parisian operetta and Parisian wit: blend of “humor & mockery” | irony & social satire
O’s Paris: La Belle Epoque | The Golden Mean | 2nd Empire – “spirit of frivolity” (Kracauer)
“poignant melancholy…discreet and fatal inevitability…touched with bitterness”
“Delicate bittersweet musicality” of poetry typified by de Musset, Lamartine
Andre Tubeuf: “the flavor of Mozart” ended with this era… (Messager Fortunio essay)
Rossini called Offenbach the “Mozart of the Champs-Elysées”
Saint-Saens on O’s music: “scores swarmed with microscopic notes, like flies feet,
and out of sheer hurry they barely touch the paper”
Tolstoy praised the “spontaneous comedy” in Offenbach
Nietzsche said O & his librettists produced “opera’s only contribution to poetry so far” and saw in O’s music “the supreme form of wit”
Gautier said O’s operas gave society “a kick in the most sensitive spot”
Kracauer: Halevy [librettist] was a great observer…On the Boulevards he would pick out someone and follow him…studying flirtations & ballet girls in the ‘foyer de danse’… [He was] a man with an inexhaustible sense of wonder. Like Offenbach, he was straightforward & honest. His sense of irony was the real source of his frivolity & the determining factor in setting the Offenbachiad on the path it took – social satire and the sanctioning of intoxicating pleasure.
Irony “based on a sense that paradise was lost.”
“Since melancholy was the constant companion to his happiness, he was able to preserve it from decay.” [=Motto / Aphorism as Credo…]
O. understood the proximity of laughter to tears, learned through experience w/ his audiences.
His 1860 ballet, Papillon, presented at the Opéra, was considered “blasphemous” for sharing the same stage as the Grand Opera of Meyerbeer, Auber & Halevy. Went on for 42 performances, billed with none other than Tannhäuser…
Wagner – after trading barbs [doggerel verse in Kracauer: “Krak! Krak! Krakerakrak | Is noble Jack von Offenback!] and feuding with O – called him kin to “the divine Mozart” after the younger composer’s death in 1880. (Rivalry fueled by envy at O’s success and anti-Semitism)
Jacques – born Jakob to poor Jewish cantor & musician from Cologne – admitted to Conservatoire under Cherubini, but dropped out after a year – virtuoso cellist – met F. Halevy and sat in his box for La Juive – one of the first French Grand Operas. Halevy senior mentored & introduced him to the influential (& essential) salons (pre-requisite for success/fame in 19th century Paris).
*See campy 90’s bio-film Impromptu (Hugh Grant as Chopin; Julian Sands as Liszt)
*Proust’s composer Vinteuil in Swann’s Way (typifies salon composer)
*Also, A. Neumann’s novel Traveler of the Century (not Paris, but perfect Salon setting)
Rise of the Arcades – vendors, commodities, fashion, “people watching,” etc – first period in architectural history where iron is primary material / closely associated with Industry, et al.
Rise of the Flaneur | Dandy | Bourgeoisie [Offenbach & Halevy’s frequent co-librettist, Henri Meilhac “was the quintessential boulevardier…his chief interest in life was to be a Flåneur…
Nobility ridiculed rising bourgeoisie while envying their swift ascent;
bourgeoisie ridiculed the same nobility [gratin = upper crust] they shamelessly imitated! [see Kracaueur below]
Anecdote: Naïade journal printed on rubber to be read in the bath by dandies!
“Jockey Club” at the Opéra: most popular society (=fraternity) which spent more time appreciating the ballerinas in the foyer de danse than they did the evening’s opera!
Frivolity & hedonism of the gratin & bourgeoisie in marked contrast to the underside of the Empire. The 1832 Cholera epidemic (“manifestly a disease of poverty” –A. Horne – affecting 6X as many poor), and the scourge of a disease closest to modern-day AIDS, syphilis, affected artists and “bohemians” at an alarming rate. Maupassant, Dumas, Baudelaire, Manet – just one distinguished quartet of victims – [Alistair Horne: The Seven Ages of Paris]
The theatre was not exempt from violence & scandal: from Hugo’s riot-inspiring Hernani (source of Verdi’s early masterpiece, Ernani) through Offenbach, left and right (republicans and royalists) fought when one side cheered a piece which made fun of the other. These social skirmishes led to the banning of umbrellas, canes and other “weapons,” and thus the origins of the coat – or check – room.
Mr Choufleuri premiered May 31, 1861, at the Presidential Palace (attended by as many ambassadors and dignitaries as refused the title character’s invitation in the opera itself!)
Morny – co-author with Halevy – was a noted statesman and stepbrother to the Emperor –
made a Duke in 1862, he was a notorious pedant and cynic. He frequently lectured guests on etiquette, and kept caged apes in his foyer as a reminder of “the true nature of man.” All the more revealing an insight into this window of Parisian history, given the satirical nature of the scenario he presented Offenbach & co.
Offenbach’s “unerring theatrical instincts” his “jokes & witticisms in the jargon of the Boulevards” ensured his success, once enough attention was paid –
Operettas which “laid bare the foundations of contemporary society” (= its inequities & hypocrisies). They resonated for their “satire at the expense of great figures of antiquity” in works like Orpheus in the Underworld and his masterpiece farce of Helen of Troy, La Belle Hélène. In more “domestic” works like Mr Choufleuri, the satire is a mirror aimed at the very society who adored and demanded more of it. (quotes: Kracauer, chapter 5)
“Public Opinion [in Orpheus] stands for the appearance of honor, loyalty, and faith – in other words, for social convention.” (p. 208)
Did it not seem as though at the first sound of this delirious orchestra a whole society suddenly sprang into being and dashed madly into the midst of the dance? This music would be enough to awaken the dead…it seemed as if the whole throng were seized with a mighty impulse, and as though the whole [19th] century, with its governments, institutions, customs, and laws, were plunged into the whirl of a tremendous, all-embracing saraband.
(Francisque Sarcey, on the 1858 premiere of Orphee aux Enfers) (Kracauer, p. 210)
Orpheus reintroduced the cancan and “set all Paris dancing” and ran for 228 consecutive performances (sic). With his first masterpiece, “the genre of the Offenbachiade was created.”
“In Offenbach tenderness and gaiety, bright wit and genuine feeling lived harmoniously side by side… A kind of inverted magician, he took it as his mission to unmask the hollow phantoms that tyrannize over mankind; but he gave his blessing to every genuine human emotion that he met on his way.” (211)
Court life – imitated by courtiers & bourgeoisie – play charades using Mythological characters, clown around like jesters – a “fashion for tableaux vivants, the object of which was to seize and eternalize the fleeting moment; and after…the company would plunge into the whirl of a masked ball, at which Offenbach’s music fulfilled the same function as at the theater.” (Chapter 6)
Offenbachiad mottos for the Paris of his time:
“Let us preserve appearances, for all depends on that!” (Jupiter, in O’s Orpheus – a propos!)
Dis-moi, Venus, quel plaisir trouves-tu | á faire ainsi cascader la vertu? (La Belle Hélène)
(Tell me, Venus, what pleasure do you take | in causing the downfall of my virtue?)
Baudelaire (1821-1867) – La Bohème – Les Misérables and the barricades (Easter 2014)
I will vent my anger in terrifying books “Grim rage – la rogue” – the result of 50-odd years of fighting amidst barricades (from Benjamin: TWOML, p. 48)
“Address to Paris” – fragment to close Fleurs du Mal – magic cobblestones which rise up to form fortresses
“Les Vin des chiffonniers” (Ragpicker’s Wine)
Et sous les firmament comme un dais suspendu | S’enivre des splendeurs de sa propre vertu
(Under the sky like a canopy suspended| He intoxicates himself on his virtue’s many splendours)
To drown the bitterness and lull the indolence | of all those old wretches who die in silence
God in remorse, created sleep; | Man added wine, sacred son of the Sun! (final 1857 version)
“La Reniement de St. Pierre” (The Denial of St Peter)
Did you dream of those days… | Where your heart swelled with hope and courage,
You used to drive out all the vile money lenders with your brave hands | When were you at last the master? Has remorse not | pierced your side more than the spear (Benjamin, 233)
…the Luciferian privilege of blaspheming the Satan to whom one has fallen prey
– Benjamin on Baudelaire’s cycle Révolte (p. 57)
[Below is my trés amateur sketch for our set design. Though I have experience as a stage director, I am not a designer. I present a concept, ideas, and give a picture of what I see. I (and most directors) depend on a designer to translate vision into product. You won't believe what the inventive, ever-resourceful Kim Renz did with his shoestring budget and my blue-aisle-special sketches. You'll have to come and see! And I can't begin to say how thrilled I am with my friend and colleague, Jessica Miller - exceptional guardian of the former Opera Roanoke costume stock!]
Kracauer: The Salons (pp 71-87):
“Offenbach took a big risk in giving up his appointment at the Opéra-Comique without having anything else in view.” His luck changed with his friendship with Flotow, “present on the memorable occasion at the Marquis de Custine’s when George Sand, who arrived in the company of Frédéric Chopin, astonished everybody by asking for a cigar and smoking it, strolling up and down in the garden…”
The salons in the time of Louis-Philippe still exercised an enormous influence…the salons constituted a world in themselves, with widespread ramifications…the nobility predominated… The nobility ridiculed the rising power of the bourgeoisie but envied it, while the bourgeoisie ridiculed the nobility but imitated them. [La plus que ca change, c’est la même chose … originated in 1849 Paris, has not never lost coinage since…]
The supreme ambition of the hostess of every salon was to offer her guests music. Music was the vogue. There was a universal obsession with it…in some circles the music was so good that it actually seemed to be provided for its own sake…Heine complained bitterly about it, and he regarded going to an evening party as a martyrdom Yes! (La plus ca change, vraiment?!) Heine: “Bands of youthful dilettanti, of whom one has learned by experience to expect the very worst, perform in very key and on all the instruments that have ever been invented.”
The way to the concert hall lay through the Soirees of the well-to-do, which “lay open” the way to the Salons, which could lead to “the dazzling prospect of…fame as a virtuoso. Flotow described this less-than-by-the-book “kitchen recipe” thusly: “One makes several appearances in the course of the winter, and then, at the beginning of Lent, one announces a concert and sends a dozen high-priced tickets, generally at 10 francs, to the hostess of every salon at which one has played…It practically never happens that all, or even any, of the tickets are sent back…The cost of such a concert is negligible. It is given on a profit-sharing basis, takes place in daylight, which saves on the expense of lighting…[advertising/marketing efforts] are unnecessary…nor is there any need for a box office…Any artist who is ambitious can easily maintain himself in Paris in this agreeable fashion… Easy for you to say, Frederick!
Offenbach’s first soiree was with the famous composer Flotow, who wrote of his 19-yr old prodigy, “my friend was a great success, and very soon he was a favorite…”
He saw the “young dandies, who had no hesitation in entering a salon covered in dust and dirty boots and always made a beeline for the smoking room immediately after dinner – a form of behaviour… considered the height of smartness. He saw the society ‘Lions’ defined by Mme de Girardin as “one who is noticed,” compared to the lowlier dandy, “a man who wants to be noticed.” Offenbach must necessarily have seen the young men, all looking exactly alike, half monkeys and half lapdogs…forerunners of [characters in] La Vie parisienne...
While some made themselves slaves to pleasure in order to have, rather, a substitute for something to do, others compensated for the impossibility of doing anything real in life by cultivating their inner sensibilities. They developed countless sentimental enthusiasms. Young poets were permitted to pose as geniuses even in the most aristocratic salons. Groups of young men and women met to read the plays of Victor Hugo and the novels of George Sand and invariably showed themselves supremely affected the experience. [Does qualify these “dandies” as Dilettantes and Philistines? Must pursue further…]
Music’s “function, like that of romantic literature, was to compensate bourgeois…for the emptiness and meaningless of the atmosphere… the greater outward triumph of materialism, the greater the inner need for emotional upsurgings. Music satisfied this yearning – not so much music in general as one form of it, the sentimental ballad….ballads were the object of a positive cult…they plucked at one’s heartstrings from behind the curtains…a whole deluge of feeling was unloosed to vie with the flood of riches…Offenbach’s riposte to this cult and its inherent sensationalist commercialism (L’inimico della Patria!) was “At the daily sight of 33,333,444,666,000 [33 quadrillion, 333 trillion, etc!] albums displayed in the windows of the music-shops, which have no other purpose than to beguile…the leisure of the salons dedicated to the ballad-cult, we may well exclaim: ‘Album, why should I write anything for you?’ [La plus que ca change – Encore!]
Chapter Six: The Boulevards, Home of the Homeless, pp. 89-107 [cf: Baudelaire, above]
Whenever O. heard a concert was being arranged, he would hurry to ask for permission to play. As a rule this was readily granted, with no thought, however, of offering him any payment for his service. [Tangent: Thank you, society: artists have been poor bohemians posing as interloping academics, artistic directors, and so-called “freelance artists” from earlier than O. & ever since!]
And to add insult to injury, akin to asking the servant to kiss the master’s ring, if you will, “he was expected to be grateful for the opportunity of playing in public for nothing…” Unlike many in similar cases, he was “optimistic.” He was “importunate,” as many tend to be, and he was described as “indefatigable,” as every full-time (= free-lance) artist must be… Oh, if they could only charge "billable hours" worthy of their talents!
But "Noble Jack von Offenback!" as jealous Richard pegged him, rose to not just fame and fortune "against all odds," but was a true Mozartian genius. He is worthy of those composers like Puccini, Poulenc, Korngold, Lehar, and others - truly great composers who look up to Mozart and Beethoven and Bach - as virtually every single other mortal has had - or should have to…
KRAK, KRAK, KRAKERAKRAK | IS NOBLE JACK VON OFFENBACK! Indeed...