Composer Profile: Jacques Offenbach, The Supreme Comedian

By David Salazar

Jacques Offenbach, born on June 20, 1819, had a pretty unique career. Some might consider him a renaissance man since he was a composer, cellist, and impresario. He was also a first-class jokester, whose pranks got him into a lot of trouble, but also defined his dramatic style.

He was born in Cologne and learned music from a young age. He eventually went to Paris to study with Cherubini at the Paris Conservatoire. However, he never took to the conservatory life and left after a year. He then went on to take jobs as a cellist, though his consistent pranks made him a controversial figure. Ultimately, he turned into a cello virtuoso and started composing.

His first full-length operetta, “Orphée aux enfers” premiered in 1858 and his career skyrocketed. In sum, he composed 98 operettas between 1847 and 1881. His last one was “Mam’zelle Moucheron.” As far as opera goes, he only composed two – “Die Rheinnixen” and “Les Contes d’Hoffmann.”

He also composed a series of songs, as well as a number of pieces for the cello.

He died in 1880.

Major Works

There is really no contest here. While Offenbach created a wide range of works in the operetta genre, “Les Contes d’Hoffmann” remains his undisputed masterpiece. While incomplete, the work has been a touchstone of the repertoire since its inception and is a major draw for star tenors around the world.

The opera is filled with some of the artform’s most renowned melodies, including the Barcarolle that has become a pop-culture fixture.

Read More on Offenbach

How one of his famous tunes is re-contextualized in “Life is Beautiful”

Watch and Listen

Watch his masterpiece in a production from La Scala.


Opera Wiki