Orpheus in the underworld

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Work data
Title: Orpheus in the underworld
Original title: Orphée aux Enfers
Poster for the performance of the second version of the work in 1874 in the Théâtre de la Gaîté

Poster for the performance of the second version of the work in 1874 in the Théâtre de la Gaîté

Original language: French
Music: Jacques Offenbach
Libretto : Hector Crémieux, Ludovic Halévy
Premiere: October 21, 1858
Place of premiere: Théâtre des Bouffes-Parisiens Paris
Playing time: approx. 90 minutes (1858 version)

approx. 4 hours (1874 version)


Orpheus in der Unterwelt (French Orphée aux enfers ) is an Opéra bouffe in two acts or four pictures by Ludovic Halévy and Hector Crémieux . The music was composed by Jacques Offenbach , the world premiere took place on October 21, 1858 in Offenbach's Théâtre des Bouffes-Parisiens in Paris. The composer, Crémieux and Halévy developed an expanded version as an Opéra féerie in 4 acts and 12 pictures in 1874 for a new production of the opera in the Théâtre de la Gaîté, which Offenbach now heads . The first performance of the extended version took place on February 7, 1874 in Paris. For this version, the work has been extended from around 90 minutes to around four hours and the number of music numbers has been expanded from 16 to 30.


After Offenbach had composed one-act plays for his theater for three years due to licensing regulations , Orpheus was the first full-length work and a sensational success. The plot satirizes the Greek saga of Orpheus and Eurydice . With the gods of Olympus who visit Hades to amuse themselves, the double standards of the better society of the Second Empire are caricatured at the same time . At the time of the premiere, many people in Paris society could recognize themselves in the play. The Greek mythology was a popular topic of conversation of the Leisure and Offenbach took his Orpheus cult antiques belonging to poke fun. Even the ruling Emperor Napoléon III. was not spared. He could find himself in the figure of the supreme god Jupiter. The emperor liked the opera; apparently he did not take Offenbach offensive and applauded loudly.

The best-known piece of music is the so-called Hell Cancan (in the original, however, called "Galop infernal") in the second act, a hit song that is still known today and is often performed separately.

There are also numerous musical quotations in the piece: the French national anthem , the aria Che farò senz 'Euridice (Oh, I have lost it) from Orfeo ed Euridice by Christoph Willibald Gluck , and a fugue theme by Johann Sebastian Bach .

The Viennese adaptation of Orpheus , which premiered in 1860, was probably made by Johann Nestroy , who also took on the role of Jupiter. The overture composed by Carl Binder was also premiered there .


In addition to the vocal soloists, the work is composed of a four-part choir and an orchestra with 2 flutes (2nd with piccolo), 1 oboe, 2 clarinets, 1 bassoon, 2 horns, 2 pistons, 1 trombone, timpani, percussion and strings (violins 1, Violins 2, violas, cellos, double basses).

Plot of the first draft (1858)

First elevator (first picture)

The action takes place on earth, at Thebes in ancient Greece.

The couple Orpheus and Eurydice have drifted apart. The music teacher and violinist Orpheus cheats on his wife with the nymph Chloé. He would have separated from his unloved wife long ago had it not been for public opinion. Eurydice, who leads a bored life, knows this and it doesn't bother her any further. She too has a lover, the shepherd and beekeeper Aristäus . However, Eurydice does not know that her lover Aristaeus is actually Pluto, the lord of the underworld. Pluto wants to kidnap his beloved into the underworld and is waiting for an opportune time. After a heated argument between the couple, Pluto sees his time coming. He bites Eurydice on the neck, and this kiss of death delivers Eurydice to him.

When Eurydice comes to, she and Pluto write a “farewell letter” to Orpheus, her husband:

I have to leave this threshold
Because I am dead without any doubt
Aristeus was the god of hell,
And now the devil is coming for me.

When Orpheus reads her message, he is delighted. He thinks he is finally free of his wife and wants to bring the good news to his beloved immediately. But then public opinion got in his way and asked him to reclaim his wife from Jupiter, the supreme god. Again, public opinion can prevail and it accompanies Orpheus up to Olympus.

First elevator (second picture)

On Mount Olympus of the gods.

There is also boredom and weariness with the gods. Jupiter is unabashedly enjoying himself with young women. Diana is sad because she has not found the beautiful mortal Actaeon during her sojourns down on earth. Juno, the wife of Jupiter, makes a scene for her godly husband. On earth a beautiful woman was abducted by a god. Jupiter denies having anything to do with this kidnapping.

Then Mercury, the messenger of the gods, comes with the news that Pluto has just returned to the underworld from a stay on earth with a beautiful woman named Eurydice. Jupiter is pleased, as this news has for the time being relieved him of the reproaches. To emphasize his innocence, he quotes Pluto from the underworld to Mount Olympus. Pluto appears before the supreme god, but he denies the kidnapping.

Then Orpheus appears together with public opinion and demands his wife back. Jupiter decides to investigate the matter more closely in the underworld. He wants to get Eurydice out of the underworld, but not for Orpheus, but for himself. The entire band of gods follows him in Pluto's hell realm.

Second elevator (third picture)

The comedian Désiré as Jupiter approaching Eurydice in the form of a fly (at the first performance in 1858)

Underworld, in Pluto's boudoir .

This is where Pluto hides the kidnapped Eurydice. She is guarded by Hans Styx, Pluto's always drunk servant. Hans Styx woos the beauty and tells her about his time in riches and splendor as Prince of Arcadia. But Eurydice doesn't care.

She longs to return to her husband on earth. The allure of the adventure has already faded. The gods who have arrived from Olympus in the underworld are initially unable to find Eurydice's hiding place. But Jupiter is suspicious. In the form of a fly he comes through the keyhole and discovers Eurydice. He sparks around her, reveals himself to be the supreme god and promises to free her and take her with him to Mount Olympus.

Second elevator (fourth picture)

Pluto gives a hell festival. There is dancing and drinking.

Jupiter earns general applause with a minuet that soon escalates into a wild cancan . Eurydice is at the festival as a bacchante . Once again divine society is disturbed by mortals. Again, Orpheus, accompanied by the public opinion of Jupiter, demands his wife back. Jupiter gives in to the wish, but he sets one condition: if Orpheus climbs up to the upper world before Eurydice, he must not turn to his wife.

So begins the march towards the upper world: public opinion, then Orpheus and Eurydice, led by Hans Styx. But when they reach the gate, Jupiter hurls lightning. Orpheus turns around in shock and has lost his wife.

But Pluto is not supposed to have Eurydice either, and so Jupiter determines:

No, I'll make a bacchante out of her now.

Complete recordings (selection)

In French:

  • Demigny, Lindenfelder, Chalot, Jonqueres, Pebordes, Mans, Choeurs et Orchester Philharmonique Paris under René Leibowitz Line 1951 (1958 version, complete)
  • Mesplé, Rhodes, Berbié, Sénéchal, Burles, Trempont, choir and orchestra du Capitole de Toulouse under Michel Plasson , EMI 1978 (1874 version, cuts in the overture, the ballet music and the Cortège in the finale of the 2nd act)
  • Dessay, Naouri, Fouchecourt, Podles, Cole, choir and orchestra of the Opéra national de Lyon under Marc Minkowski , EMI 1997 (1858 version with inserted musical numbers from the 1874 version)

In German language:

Children's version

The poison in the elevator - why Orpheus drove all the way down . Children's operetta by Kay Link based on Jacques Offenbach's Orpheus in the Underworld. World premiere: March 18, 2012. Commissioned by Bayer.Kultur , Leverkusen, published by stage publisher Boosey & Hawkes .


The opera was filmed under the same title as early as 1909. In 1974, the operetta was as Orpheus in the Underworld by the DEFA filmed as a music-comedy. Participants were Wolfgang Greese and Dorit Gäbler in the leading roles . Furthermore, actors such as Rolf Hoppe , Fred Delmare and Gerry Wolff participated . Horst Bonnet took over the direction . Some of the vocal interludes were sung by the actors themselves. They were supported by the choir and members of the Deutsche Staatsoper Berlin , the ballet of the Komische Oper Berlin and the Metropol-Theater as well as the DEFA symphony orchestra under the direction of Robert Hanell .


  • Orpheus in der Unterwelt , Opéra bouffon, text book (original title: Orphée aux enfers by Jacques Offenbach. Text by Hector Crémieux and Ludovic Halévy, revised and translated by Siegfried Dörffeldt), Bote and Bock, Berlin / Wiesbaden 1985, ISBN 3-7931-1521 -6 .
  • Siegfried Dörffeldt: The musical parody near Offenbach , Frankfurt am Main 2006, DNB 978965450 (online dissertation University of Frankfurt 1954, 108 pages, 4, DNB 480476810 full text online PDF, free of charge, 123 pages, 17.2 MB).

Web links

Commons : Orphée aux Enfers  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Orpheus in the Underworld at The German Early Cinema DatabaseTemplate: GECD title / maintenance / ID is missing in Wikidata