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Jacques Offenbach: Biography

There is little to be said about Offenbach's family background. Jacques Offenbach had a family consisting of nine other brothers and sisters. His father was a Jewish cantor named Isaac Judah Eberst who was an amateur violinist and taught singing as well as various instruments. Jacques' original name was Jakob Eberst. His father changed their family name to Offenbach after marrying and taking a job as a cantor in Cologne, Germany. His father renamed them after his hometown, Offenbach, Germany.

Jacques Offenbach was born in Cologne Germany on June 20, 1819. He was the seventh child and the second son. He studied the violin when he was six. At eight, he wrote little songs. When he was nine, Offenbach switched from the violin to the cello after his parents decided that the violin was too strenuous for a boy of delicate health. At the age of only ten, Offenbach startled relatives and friends when he volunteered to substitute for an absent instrumentalist in a performance at the Haydn quartet. He performed several original compositions in public at Cologne by the time he was thirteen. In 1833, Jacques father took him to the Paris Conservatory, hopping he would be able to attend. Immediately after his father pleaded Cherubini, the director, to listen to his son play, he was accepted although there was a rule against foreigners. In a year, Offenbach left the conservatory. He was not happy there and skipped classes as a result. In 1844, he married an English concert agent's stepdaughter and had five children. In 1848, he took the family to Cologne and returned to Paris in 1849.

This is where his professional music career began. At first, he got no where, but as soon as the Second Empire got started, so did he. In 1850, he became a conductor at Theatre Francais. He employed at the orchestra of the Opera Comique as a cellist, but his constant pranks led to foreign trouble. Authorities fined him so much money, Offenbach soon had no salary. He now did his studies privately. He played the cello with Norblin and compositions with Jacques Halevy, the composer of La Juive. He formed a piano/cello duo with Fluto. He quit working at Opera Comique because their operettas were not funny, gay, or witty anymore. They were now small-scale grand operas. On July 5, 1855, he founded Bouffes Parisiens. Three years later, he produced Opheus in the Underworld. In 1864, he introduced La Belle Helene. Barbe-bleue in 1866, La Grande-duchesse de Gerolstein in 1867, and in 1868, Offenbach performed La Perichole for the first time. Within a few months of opening at Bouffes Parisiens, it moved, but to a smaller theater. New York Tribune described it as to be "almost a joke" and that there was even "not enough room to swing a cat in," in 1863. His companions and partners were Ludovic Halevy (whose uncle was the composer of La Juive) and Hortense Schneider. Opheus in the Underworld was successful until Jules Janin attacked it in the Journal des Debats. That caused 228 straight performances, the people seeing it for themselves. Rossini cleared everything up for Offenbach, calling him the Mozart of the Champs-Elysees. La Grande-duchesse de Gerolstein was an insult to people with the blood of Calvinism and Puritanism. One John S. Dwight of Boston described the operetta as, "the lowest we have ever seen upon the stage."

Despite that remark, Offenbach's popularity grew in England, America, and in France. He was given the ribbon- Legion of Honor- because his operetta, Orpheus in the Underworld, was so successful. In 1861, he gave up his theater but continued writing new operettas for other managers. As the Second Empire disintegrated, so did his fame and success. In 1872, he revived Bouffes Parisiens, and took over the Gaite Theater, but that caused financial problems and the theater became bankrupt. He paid his debts by going on an American tour during the Centennial Celebration, in which he performed to New York at Gilmore's Gardens and at Philadelphia Centennial Exposition. During the Franco-Prussian War, Offenbach was unwelcome in France because of his birth in Germany. Furthermore, people became tired of Offenbach's operettas and anticipated something new. Les Cloches de Corneville by Robert Planquette, La Fille de Mme. Angot by Charles Lecocq, and Andre Messager's light and charming works took over the popularity that once was greatly received by Offenbach. Although Offenbach was unsuccessful after the 1860's there were some successes. When he was dying, he regretted for the first time for wasting his life and talent on operettas. Offenbach produced the Tales of Hoffmann, a very serious operetta, but died three months too early to see its performance. His death was in Paris and occurred on October 4, 1880, due to a fatal attack of suffocation.

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